The wildfires that have ravaged Paradise (north of Sacramento) and areas in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, are among the most devastating in California history — and that’s saying something. While trivial compared to the loss of life and property, the sports world has also felt the wildfire’s effects. While dealing with their own safety and property, athletes are stepping up to help those in need. And one, Kyle Kuzma of the LA Lakers, mentioned climate change as a potential cause of the fires.
SACRAMENTO SPORTS FEELING THE EFFECTS OF “CAMP FIRE” WILDFIRE 85 MILES TO THE NORTH
If these were normal times in Sacramento, LeBron James’ first game as a Los Angeles Laker vs. the Kings at the Golden 1 Center would have been the #1 story in California’s capital city.
These are far from normal times.
Smoke from the “Camp Fire” wildfire raging since Thursday in Paradise — about 85 miles north of downtown Sacramento — quickly wafted towards and then inside the arena. It was visible above the court before and during Saturday night’s Kings-Lakers contest. Several members of the Lakers told ESPN that they could see the fire burning from the plane on their approach to Sacramento on Friday.
“You can smell it,” LeBron James told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin before the game. “We haven’t really gotten up and down [running] like that to the point where you can tell it affects you or not, but anytime smoke is around, you know it can affect all of us. Not only us as athletes but everyone. Everyone gets affected by pollution.”
LeBron James of the LA Lakers surveys the scene at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento during Saturday’s game vs. the Kings. Smoke from the Camp Fire wildfire 85 miles north in Butte County, entered the arena and was noticeable to James and his teammates (Photo credit: Sergio Estrada)
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma linked the Camp Fire — as well as the Woolsey Fire that has consumed over 70,000 acres of land in Ventura and Los Angeles counties — to climate change, telling ESPN, “Climate change, or I don’t know what it is, but there’s a lot [wildfires] coming.”
There were no reports of smoke-related problems at Golden 1 Center before or during Monday’s San Antonio Spurs-Kings game. That was likely due, at least in part, to arena management’s decision to keep the entrance doors closed as much as possible during the pre-game window.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS HOST PARADISE HIGH SCHOOL TEAM AT MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
After watching the deadly Camp Fire lay waste to their town last week, the Paradise High football squad found a smidge of relief Monday night with a road trip, courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers.
At 11 AM, players, cheerleaders and coaches boarded a bus provided by the Niners for the 200 mile journey to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The Paradise team, who had to forfeit its playoff game due to the fire, stood on the sideline with their NFL counterparts during the playing of the national anthem. Then they watched the home team fall in the last minute to the New York Giants, 27-23.
San Francisco 49ers players stand alongside members of the Paradise High football team during the playing of the national anthem at Monday’s game between the Niners and the New York Giants at Levi’s Stadium (Photo credit: Kyle Terada, USA Today)
But the bus trip itself might have been an even bigger deal than going on the field.
“I think the biggest reaction was on the bus ride here when they all slept,” coach Rick Prinz told ESPN’s Nick Wagoner. “They’re exhausted. They’re all displaced. [Almost] all of their homes have burned down. They’ve lost everything.”
More than 6,400 homes have been destroyed, according to the Butte County Sheriff’s Department. While the school survived the fire, about 90 percent of the players’ homes did not. Like most of the Paradise community, the coaches, players and cheerleaders spent the past few days living elsewhere and seeking updates on the status of their houses.
49ers’ assistant strength and conditioning coach Shane Wallen grew up in Paradise and decided to take action. Per Wagoner, he “started a GoFundMe page in efforts to offer support for his hometown. The fire destroyed Wallen’s father’s home in Magalia, California. Thanks to multiple Niners players making donations and posting on their social media platforms, Wallen had already raised more than $19,000 of the $50,000 goal as of early Monday evening.”
While Paradise High School survived the Camp Fire, about 90 percent of its football players’ homes did not (Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
After Monday’s game, the Paradise contingent took the long ride back to Butte County. Instead of going home, they dispersed to various points — some to hotels, some with relatives and some to evacuation shelters.
LA RAMS ANDREW WHITWORTH, IMPACTED BY WOOLSEY FIRE AND BORDERLINE BAR SHOOTING, STEPS UP
“Pretty amazing, to be able to win a football game in circumstances like this.”
Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth offered that observation to NBC Sports’ Peter King after his team held off the Green Bay Packers, 36-31 in a thriller at the LA Memorial Coliseum Sunday afternoon.
The circumstances to which Whitworth referred are the horrific Borderline Bar shooting, where at least 12 people were killed, and the Woolsey Fire, now the largest ever recorded in Los Angeles county. The tragedies overlapped each other in an apocalyptic Thursday-Friday in Thousand Oaks.
Andrew Whitworth of the LA Rams (Photo credit: Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports)
Whitworth quickly sprung into action.
The shooting took place in the wee hours of Thursday morning. By 1 PM, the LSU product and his wife agreed that he would donate his game check from the Packers game — about $60,000 after taxes, according to King — to a fund established to help the victims of the shootings, and their families.
By 3 PM, the Rams, who practice in Thousand Oaks, could clearly see two massive fires that were only about three miles from the facility.
Firefighters from various departments work to protect structures Friday as the Woolsey Fire moves through Agoura Hills, which is where the Rams’ business headquarters are located. The team trains in nearby Thousand Oaks (Photo credit: Matthew Simmons, Getty Images)
Eleven hours later, at 2 AM, King reported that Whitworth “woke up in his bedroom, the smell of acrid smoke everywhere. ‘We need to go,’ he told his wife. His friend [and fellow offensive lineman] John Sullivan lives in the same neighborhood. ‘We can’t leave them,’ Whitworth said, and he went to bang on the Sullivans’ door. The two families quickly packed. The Whitworths piled their kids in one of their cars and headed south, to Los Angeles.” Whitworth and Sullivan became 2 of 90 Rams players and staffers who had evacuated their homes.
PHILLIES MANAGER GABE KAPLER’S MALIBU HOME DESTROYED BY WOOLSEY FIRE
Meanwhile, the Malibu home of Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler was reduced to a steel staircase by the Woolsey Fire. ESPN reported that his two sons and ex-wife were living there but escaped unharmed.
Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler (Photo credit: Matt Rourke, AP)
Kapler, who lives in Philadelphia, wants to raise awareness of those who are less fortunate. “Keep talking about it,” Kapler told The Athletic. “When you’re out in your community, talk about it with other people. Use it as a way to come together. I sent this text message back to people: Talk about it. Shine light on it. Raise awareness. Feel it.”
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