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California Wildfires Continue to Impact Sports Events

1 Nov, 2017

By: Michael Popke

As Northern California’s Wine Country continued to burn well into October — killing at least 40 people and scorching more than 220,000 acres as of Oct. 15 — event organizers ranging from golf club owners to high school athletic directors were forced to act fast.

As The Blitz did following the hurricanes that slammed into Texas and Florida, we’ve compiled a rundown of the impact California’s deadliest wildfires are having on some area sports. 

  • With several high schools closed indefinitely since the fires began Oct. 8, football and soccer games, tennis matches and even indoor volleyball competitions were cancelled because of dangerous air quality issues caused by smoke blanketing the region with dangerous pollutants. Some schools also suffered damage. “It’s been pure hell,” Robert Pinoli, commissioner of the Coastal Mountain Conference, which encompasses 27 high schools in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, told SFGate.com. Students on some teams even lost their homes, according to reports.

  • Other games went on as scheduled, though. Cal hosted No. 8 Washington State at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley on Friday, Oct. 13, beating a top-10 team for the first time in 14 years, 37-3. The game was played in smoky conditions, but Cal officials monitored the air quality for days prior to the game. According to The Sporting News, NCAA regulations on safe playing conditions state teams should “consider removing sensitive athletes from outdoor practice or competition venues at an AQI (air quality index) over 100. At AQIs of over 150, all athletes should be closely monitored. All athletes should be removed from outdoor practice or competition venues at AQIs of 200 or above.” Three hours prior to kickoff, the AQI was at 165, and conditions were monitored throughout the game, according to a statement from the Pac-12.

  • Similarly, NFL officials did not relocate the Raiders-Chargers game on Sunday, Oct. 15, from Oakland — even though at least two other cities were in contention to host it. “Not only was the league looking at Levi's Stadium in nearby Santa Clara as a possibility, but the city of San Diego also offered to host the Chargers for the first time since they bolted town after last season,” CBSSports.com reported. (The Chargers stadium in Los Angeles was already booked with a Major League Soccer game.) Earlier in the week, the Raiders cut practice short because of the smoky air. The Raiders released a brief statement two days before the game, stating “We will continue to monitor air quality conditions in the Bay Area and will update the public with any changes via our social media channels.” The game went on as scheduled.

  • Hours after the conclusion of the PGA Tour’s season-opening Safeway Open at the Silverado Resort & Spa in Napa, fire consumed several condominiums and homes on and near the course, as well as hospitality structures. “We got out of there, thank God,” tournament director Jeff Sanders told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It was quick. It happened fast. The wind was blowing 40 mph, blowing the fire down the top of the hill on No. 5. It didn’t take long for the embers to cause problems.” Meanwhile, at least one other golf course suffered major damage: The clubhouse at the Fountaingrove Golf and Athletic Club in Santa Rosa was destroyed.

  • Several former professional athletes, including Barry Bonds, Dan Jansen and Eric Gagne, fled the Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa as flames rolled toward the course, which was scheduled to host the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center Celebrity Golf Classic co-sponsored by NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott. The event was canceled. “It was a crazy, surreal night,” former Kansas City Royals pitcher Bret Saberhagen told reporters. “I was out on the balcony at the Mayacama when the power went out and sat down, and saw the moon come up. It was very nice. And then I saw the moon turn orange and it started getting lighter and lighter. I saw the fire coming over the ridge, and I could hear propane and gas tanks popping.” Saberhagen and Jansen drove 130 miles before finding a safe place to spend the night.

  • The Virgin Sport Festival of Fitness, which has had months of build-up, announced it would cancel this year’s events, including the Twin Peaks Mile and the SF Bay Half Marathon, scheduled for mid-October. ““Air quality is a major concern,” said Mary Wittenberg, CEO of Virgin Sport. “Another priority for us is making sure that city and local officials, as well as first responders, have no distractions in doing what they need to do to help affected communities manage this situation. This was a big decision, given that this was our inaugural event and many stakeholders, including volunteers and of course the athletic community, worked hard to make it a reality. It’s also the right and necessary thing to do, for the sake of everyone’s health and safety. We truly appreciate the City’s flexibility in supporting our decision – and all those affected have our deepest sympathies.” (The event has noted it will be in touch with participants, and that entry fees would be refunded.)

  • Other recreational sports on a local level, including cycling, running and walking events, from Tough Mudders to Pride Walks, were also affected. Here is a running list of those changes.

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