Canoe and Kayak athletes were among the wildfire evacuees at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.

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CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Sixteen athletes and two coaches of the United States Sprint Canoe/Kayak Team joined a precautionary evacuation of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. Monday evening in response to the Harris wildfire burning nearby.

Forty-one U.S. athletes in Canoe/Kayak, Archery, Track and Field, and Paralympics Track and Field along with 36 staff members and seven coaches took part in the voluntary evacuation, which went into effect at 9 p.m. Monday evening. A mandatory evacuation was later imposed for the area early Tuesday morning.

The Harris blaze, one of 13 major wildfires raging in the drought-stricken Southern California region, is burning on the opposite shore of Otay Lake near the Olympic Training Center. The fire does not pose an immediate threat to the training facility, however the evacuation was imposed by Olympic Training Center staff due to the uncertainty of the situation and poor air quality.

U.S. athletes found accommodations with the help of family and friends in the area and along with Olympic Training Center staff. Among those affected were 2000 and 2004 Olympic paddler Rami Zur (Chula Vista, Calif.), 2004 Olympians Jeff Smoke (Buchanan, Mich.) and Carrie Johnson (San Diego, Calif.) and U.S. sprint coach Nathan Luce (Chula Vista, Calif.).

“We decided to get everyone and as many boats and paddles as possible and get off site," said Luce, who was evacuated along with his wife Lea and two boys age one and three. “Right now, everyone is safe in various homes in unaffected areas of the county. A local 24 Hour Fitness gym has even offered free passes so our athletes can continue training."

Olympic Training Center officials are expected to evaluate conditions Wednesday morning to determine when the training center can be reopened. "We are playing it by ear as to when we can return," said Luce. "If the air quality is still poor, we may have to find alternative locations for training – possibly north in the state."

"The U.S. canoe/kayak community is deeply saddened by the personal losses of those affected by California's wildfires," said David Yarborough, executive director of USA Canoe/Kayak.

About USA Canoe/Kayak

USA Canoe/Kayak is a non-profit membership organization promoting canoe and kayak racing in the United States. A member of the United States Olympic Committee, Charlotte, N.C. based USACK is the national governing body for the Olympic sports of Flatwater Sprint and Whitewater Slalom and official U.S. federation of the International Canoe Federation. Other paddling sports sanctioned by USACK include Marathon, Rodeo, Wildwater, Kayak Polo, Outrigger, and Dragon Boat. To learn more about USACK and its other sponsors and suppliers, visit