The Donner Ridge Fire – August 20, 1960

Ol' Reno Guy


On a bucolic late-summer day, a small plume of smoke was spotted against an overcast cloud ceiling, emanating from a ridge high above Truckee, somewhere near the new Interstate 80 freeway.  It was a Saturday afternoon, August the 20th of 1960, and countless Tahoe vacationers were loading up the family wagons for the trek back to the Bay Area and home.  If they’d gassed their cars up by that hour, they stood a chance, but a slim one.  If not, they were probably still sitting at Kings Beach or Tahoe City or South Shore on the following Tuesday morning.

   The small smoke column above Truckee and Donner Lake grew with phenomenal intensity, spreading at its base and moving to the east at a speed fast enough to “crown” across the treetops over the earliest firemen on the scene, forcing them to retreat at a virtual dead-run, in some…

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2 thoughts on “The Donner Ridge Fire – August 20, 1960

  1. Hi Karl, I didn’t see this column in 2013 but I was glad to read it today because I have often thought about that fire but haven’t heard it mentioned, well, hardly ever. It was memorable for me because of a date I had that evening. I was dating a guy named Jim Newhouse (he was going to school in Santa Barbara but was from NY) and he invited me on a double date with his friend, last name Crosby…really, but no relation to Bing. We went to the Cal-Neva to see Frank Sinatra and because Jim’s friend had made the reservation, our table was ringside. I assume they weren’t taking any chances on offending Mr. Crosby. I remember getting ready in the dark because not only was the sun darkened by smoke but there was no electricity. My hair was very short so that wasn’t a problem and away we went. Thanks for stirring up another memory….Phyllis

    • Phyllis, many thanks! The Cal-Neva, or even Frank himself, probably wanted a gorgeous lady ringside and saw your party arriving. Thanks as always for contributing to the column…

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