Genoa hot springs resort hit by borate bomber

Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Genoa, Walley's was in the path of an air tanker heading back to a California wild land fire in the Eldorado National Forest when it lost an engine and had to dump its load of retardant.

Doug Swantner, aviation manager of the Sierra Front Interagency said it appears the pilot dropped the load just as he came to Genoa Peak.

"He punched it out probably when he was on the other side of the ridge and that wind was really whipping and carried it over to Walley's," Swantner said.

"I had just left my office when I noticed the plane and thought to myself, 'Gosh, I hope there isn't another fire," assistant resort manager Juane Rouland said she noted Saturday evening as she walked into another building. When she came back out, Rouland could clearly see the red dust that had settled on the buildings and vehicles in the area.

"I had guests on the tennis court and guests in the spas and they said they could see the red cloud coming down," she said.

The north parking lot of the resort took the brunt of the dusting. Cars and sidewalks were most noticeably speckled with the dusty retardant that hardens when dry, but is water soluble.

Randy B. Scurry, center manager of the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch, said the aircraft had just reloaded at the Minden Air Tanker Base and was high enough in anticipation of the mountain, that when it dropped the retardant, the agent broke up into a cloud and misted the ground below.

"It was just a misting. Luckily he was high enough that it didn't come down in gobs," Scurry said. He said an estimated 100 vehicles, some buildings and a few guests were tagged by the dust.

Scurry said the manufacturer of the retardant was contacted and there should be no lasting effects to vehicles or landscape in the area.

"As long as it doesn't bake on the cars it should be fine," Scurry said.

Six fire engines and about 20 firefighters from the East Fork Fire District, responded to the resort to wash vehicles and buildings.

"Those guys were basically out here having a car wash until midnight," Rouland said.

Swantner said the retardant is mostly commercial fertilizer, with a clay thickener and red coloring that is diluted with water.

"Its not considered as a hazardous material by the U.S. Department of Transportation," Swantner said. "Basically its kind of a strong fertilizer and

not at all harmful to the environment."

The hot springs were unaffected by the retardant, Rouland said.

Scurry said everyone at Walley's was "great" and Rouland said her guests were "great."

"Everyone understood that it was an emergency situation for the pilot and they were all joking, "Hey at least I got my car washed," she said.

Scurry said the incident is under investigation. The mechanical problem with the plane is unknown since the aircraft is based out of Chester, Calif.

The Star Fire, in the Eldorado National Forest, is over 100 acres in size. One firefighter was injured by a falling rock. The fire is located just south of Lake Tahoe near Ralston Ridge. Four other air tankers are also using the Minden location to reload.

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