The wildfires scorching northern California, which so far have killed at least 41 people and destroyed 5,700 structures, forced the cancellation of the inaugural Virgin Sport Festival of Fitness on October 14 and 15.
A press release from the company cited poor air quality from smoke and ash as a major factor in the decision but also said organizers did not want to divert first responders (needed to control traffic during the races) from battling the flames.
“These fires are a tragic event for the local community and we're confident the athletic community will agree that this was the right, and indeed, the only sensible decision to take for the sake of everyone’s health and safety,” the release said.
The event was to include a mile race as well as the SF Bay Half Marathon. Participants will receive a full refund.
The festival would have been Virgin Sport’s first in the United States. The company, an arm of Richard Branson’s entertainment and airline empire, organized three others in Europe in 2017.
Virgin Sport’s CEO, Mary Wittenberg, is no stranger to weather-related cancellations of major races. She helmed the New York Road Runners in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City just a week before more than 50,000 people were supposed to run a marathon through all five boroughs.
At the time, the race received widespread criticism for delaying the decision to cancel. The announcement came just two days before the race—nearly four days after the storm ravaged coastal communities in New Jersey and along the marathon's route in Staten Island.
This year, Wittenberg and Virgin Sport have received nearly universal praise for the decision to postpone the festival. In addition, the company announced that it will donate $25,000 to the Northern California division of the American Red Cross.
The company has not announced any plans to reschedule, but the website does offer a link to pre-register for the event in 2018.