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UR News Home > Features > UR News > Fires, Smoke Force Cancellation of Western States 100

Fires, Smoke Force Cancellation of Western States 100

 
Fires, Smoke Force Cancellation of Western States 100
Looking west from Emigrant Gap, smoke obscures the Granite Chief Wilderness (John Medinger photo)


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The 2008 Western States 100, scheduled for June 28, has been canceled by organizers due to fires on the course and hazardous air quality. It is the first time in 35 years that the race has been canceled.
The following email was sent by the race to its participants on Wednesday, June 25:

 

Dear Western States Runners,

It is with deep regret that we announce today that the 35th running of the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run has been canceled, due to the unprecedented amount of wildfires that have struck
northern California in recent days and the health risks that have been associated with these wildfires. The Board of Trustees of the Western States Endurance Run has consulted with many of our local and
state race partners, including the U.S. Forest Service and the Placer County Air Pollution Control District, in coming to this decision. We apologize to our runners for any inconvenience this decision has created.

The race's organizers are currently working on a revised schedule of runner activities for Thursday and Friday in Squaw Valley, and these details will be made available soon. Although there will be no race
for the first time in our 35-year history, we still wish to make this experience as meaningful as possible for our runners. Activities will include annual events such as runner check-in for goodie bag pickup on
Friday morning, the pre-race briefing and raffle on Friday afternoon, the showing of Western States documentaries on Friday night, and a special gathering of runners commemorating the race's start on Saturday.

Since the beginning of more than 840 wildfires statewide, 312 wildfires in northern California and more than 3,200 lightning strikes in the Tahoe National Forest alone on June 21, the race's organizers have
worked closely with a variety of local, county and state agencies in determining the best course of action for our race. It has become apparent that given our race's paramount concern - the safety or our
runners - holding this year's race would pose too great a risk to our runners, to our aid station personnel and to our volunteers. Given the close proximity of at least two fires that are within two miles of our
race course and a critical access road, as well as the deteriorating air quality stretching from our start in Squaw Valley to Auburn, Calif., the board has determined that cancellation, rather than postponement
or the use of an alternative course, represents the safest and most prudent decision for our 2008 event.

Our decision was based on three factors:

1. Proximity of the fire to the race course, which has the potential to impact the safety of runners, aid station personnel and volunteers at any point during the race.

Fire projections indicate that the Westville Fire has the potential to reach the Foresthill Divide Road by the weekend; in addition, the Peavine Fire could reach Last Chance and Mosquito Ridge Road, possibly
compromising access in and out of these areas. In a statement, Jan Cutts, District Ranger for the American River Ranger District, said, "In addition to the potential direct impact by the fires, (the race's cancellation)
is based on safety concerns surrounding the increased number of vehicles on the road and congestion associated with the Run. We see hundreds of vehicles on the Foresthill Divide Road and Mosquito Ridge
Road for this event each year. That's just too many additional vehicles when we've got fire-fighting equipment and personnel using the same roads for fire suppression operations. … Safety is our overriding
concern and we felt we could not provide a safe environment for this year's Run because of the unprecedented fire activity in the area."

2. Air quality deterioration.

Placer County Air Pollution Control District officials have issued an air-quality advisory. Air quality specialists with Placer County are advising individuals to reduce their exposure to the unhealthy air, and that
includes vigorous outdoor activities. Medical representatives from the Western States Board have consulted with several physicians regarding their expert opinion on running a 100-mile trail race through
rugged country through such unhealthy air; the consensus has been that such an activity would not be recommended, with the potential for serious health risks - even for the most highly trained of athletes.
As a point of reference, a high level of pollution is 35 micrograms of material; in Auburn on Wednesday the level was 10 times that amount, according to figures from Placer County. In addition, Placer County
Air Pollution Control District officials have characterized the air conditions as extremely hazardous and the worst recordings the area has had in more than 10 years.

In a statement, the Placer County Public Health Officer, Air Pollution Control Officer and Director of the Office of Emergency Services, all concurred with the decision to cancel this year's run:

"The current situation in Northern California with respect to poor air quality and active fire danger is unprecedented. Within Placer County there are three active fires burning in the American River watershed,
two of which have potential to impact the Western States Trail directly. These fires, as well as ones burning outside of the American River watershed to the west and north are creating unhealthy smoke
concentrations throughout the foothills. This has necessitated county public health officials to issue advisories recommending a curtailment of voluntary outdoor activities that include strenuous physical
exertion. These recommendations include reducing exposure to smoke." Added Tom Christofk, Placer County Air Pollution Officer: "The widespread smoke throughout Northern California is forecasted to
remain as long as the wildfires continue to burn and the weather conditions do not substantially change. The poor air quality conditions being experienced in Placer County are expected to persist through
the weekend and impact elevations from the valley to Tahoe. High particulate matter concentrations affect respiratory and cardiovascular systems negatively, and I concur with the decision to cancel the Run
from a public health perspective as we have been issuing health advisories recommending the limiting of outdoor physical exercise until conditions improve."

3. Safety of our runners.

For 35 years, the Western States 100 has been predicated on our runner's safety. As stewards of the race, the Western States Board has always recognized that running 100 miles over snow, through high
elevations, into infernal canyons and through the dark of night can pose great challenges for even the most skilled of runners. Couple the challenging nature of our run with the existing combination of close
proximity of wildfire, potential volatile fire activity that could cut off key access points to the course as well as some of the most unhealthy air the region has seen this decade, and the decision was made in
recognition of our preeminent goal - the safety of our runners.

For all of you, today's news is disappointing. Since the lottery was held in December, you have trained with remarkable diligence and focus to get to this day. You have dreamed big and made countless
personal sacrifices to prepare for one of the greatest days any trail runner can ever have. As a group, the Western States Board would like to commend you for your dedication and devotion not only to the
preparation that is required for our race, but to the community of trail runners of which we are all a part. You are members of a special group, one that relishes challenge, constantly strives to improve the
limits of what is believed possible, and seeks the special kindred spirits of others who revel in the beauty of our sport. We have been honored to have your name as part of our race's start list this year.

We would be remiss if we did not publicly thank the men and women of the American River Ranger District, particularly Jan Cutts and Ed Moore, for their consultation and constant flow of updated information
regarding this very challenging fire situation. The City of Auburn, City Manager Bob Richardson, and officials from Placer County, in particular Tom Christofk, Placer County Air Pollution Control Officer, and
Dr. Richard Burton, Placer County Public Health Officer, have also been invaluable sources of information and advisement. Thanks to all of these trail partners.

In the coming days, we will announce details regarding entries for next year's race, which will be determined in a fair and equitable manner. It should be noted that per our race rules, all race entries are
non-refundable.

Thank you again for your participation and interest in the Western States 100. We hope that we will see you in 2009.

Sincerely,

Tim Twietmeyer
Western States Board President

Greg Soderlund
Race Director