Man plays violin for California fire evacuees stuck in traffic


Mel Smothers plays the violin while stuck in traffic with evacuees as residents attempt to flee the Caldor fire in South Lake Tahoe, California on on August 30, 2021. – At least 650 structures have burned and thousands more are threatened as the Caldor fire moves into the resort community of South Lake Tahoe, California. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (NEXSTAR) — Evacuees of the raging Caldor Fire found themselves stuck in deadlocked traffic Monday with nothing to do but wait and worry. A few folks found themselves with an added source of entertainment (and distraction): Mel Smothers on the violin.

The longtime South Lake Tahoe resident was on his way out of town, just like the rest of the city of 22,000, when he hit the traffic jam. So to pass the time, he pulled out his violin and started playing.

Photos show evacuees with the windows rolled down or standing alongside their cars, listening to the music in the thick haze of smoke.

The gridlock heading out of South Lake Tahoe had residents trapped for hours Monday after a mandatory evacuation forced everyone to leave. Justin Sullivan, a photographer covering the Caldor Fire and evacuations, said there was a 45-minute period where cars on the evacuation route didn’t move at all.

Ken Breslin was in bumper-to-bumper traffic less than a mile from his home with only a quarter-tank of gas in his Ford Escape. His son begged him to leave Sunday night but he shrugged him off, certain that if an evacuation order came, it would be later in the week.

“Before, it was, ‘No worries. It’s not gonna. It’s not going to crest. It’s not gonna come down the hill. There’s 3,500 firefighters, all those bulldozers and all the air support,’” he said. “Until this morning, I didn’t think there was a chance it could come into this area. Now, it’s very real.”

The Lake Tahoe area in the Sierra Nevada mountains is usually a year-round recreational paradise offering beaches, water sports, hiking, ski resorts and golfing.

Fire officials have described this summer’s fire activity as unprecedented. Only twice in California history have fires burned from one side of the Sierra Nevada to the other — both this month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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