FIRE SAFETY IN THE TAHOE BASIN GETS A “C-“ GRADE
Senator Ted Gaines holds up report card giving Tahoe Basin fire safety a “C-” grade. Senator Gaines and panelists discuss efforts to prevent catastrophic wildfires in the Tahoe Basin.
To mark the 5th anniversary of the devastating Angora Fire, I hosted a community Fire Forum at South Tahoe High School where I issued a “C-” on the current status of fire safety in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
I am disappointed to issue a “C-” grade but inspired to keep working for greater safety for the region. I have written a letter to Governor Brown requesting fully funded fire protection in the Tahoe Basin. Although things are better than they were five years ago, there is still work to do and the area is still a tinderbox.
The grade is based on the actions that have been taken on the list of recommendations made by a bi-state Blue Ribbon Fire Commission, which was formed in the wake of the fire by the Governors of California and Nevada. The recommendations were aimed at strengthening the region’s ability to prevent and respond to fire catastrophes.
The Angora Fire scorched about 3,100 acres and destroyed 254 homes, costing many tens of millions in damages and in emergency response costs. This discussion was of particular importance as Tahoe’s conditions – steep canyons, ample fuel, dry years such as in 2007, when the area received only 29-percent of normal precipitation, high winds – are a recipe for forest fire disaster. This year’s conditions are similar and the community is nervous heading into fire season.
Tahoe is still at extreme risk for catastrophic wildfire. We can never eliminate the risk completely but we need to take every reasonable measure we can to keep this area safe.
I commissioned the non-partisan Senate Office of Research to track the implementation of the 90 recommendations issued by the Blue Ribbon Fire Commission. According to their research, roughly 20 had not been implemented or their status was unclear.
We simply cannot afford to leave these recommendations undone, and must continue to effectively implement those in progress, both for public safety and for the continued health of the Tahoe regional economy.
During the community Fire Forum, a panel of experts discussed the “Report Card” and the Blue Ribbon Fire Commission’s recommendations. Community members asked questions and voiced their concerns about efforts to protect their homes, businesses and community from future destructive wildfires.
In addition to myself, the panel of experts included: Chief Gareth Harris, Lake Valley Fire Protection District; Patty Z. Kouyoumdjian, Executive Officer, Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board; Joanne Marchetta, Executive Director, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency; Mike LeFevre, Planning Staff Officer, U.S. Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit; and Chief Kelly Keenan, Amador El-Dorado Unit, CAL FIRE.
I made sure to encourage residents to do their part for fire safety by exercising extreme caution with cigarettes, campfires, tools, engines or anything else that could possibly spark or otherwise cause a fire – which is how the Angora Fire began. Homeowners must create defensible space around their homes and be vigilant in clearing out brush at least 100 feet.
Here are some additional important tips to protect your home and create defensible space in the Tahoe Basin:
Rake your pine needles. Make sure they aren’t prime kindling for summer heat and winds.
Protect vents in your attic with screens of 1/8 inch wire mesh.
Maintain siding by filling gaps with caulk and protect combustible siding with metal flashing between it and combustible deck.
Adjust garage doors so they are well sealed.
Create a 5-foot non-combustible zone around your home free of all debris and plants.
Remember, trees less than 14 inches in diameter can be removed without a permit.
Don’t provide more fuel for the fire!