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March 26, 2014
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Tahoe officials: ‘Severe’ wildland fire season likely

TAHOE/TRUCKEE — While the Truckee Fire Protection District hasn’t responded to wildland fires this winter, neighboring districts have, indicating this season could be a busy one, officials said.

“In essence, the fire season did not end for the west side departments,” said Paul Spencer, spokesman for TFPD, which is responsible for 125 square miles in the Truckee/Tahoe region. “It did end for us with the moisture and snow we received.”

Yet, an abandoned campfire burned 4 acres Monday between Boca and Prosser reservoirs, making it the fifth such fire this year, said Debby Broback, spokesperson for the Truckee Ranger District and Tahoe National Forest.

“We’re all anticipating that it’s going to be an active season,” she said.

While they remain under investigation, two January wildland fires on U.S. Forest Service land above Incline Village are believed to be the result of careless campfires or warming fires, including a Jan. 24 blaze that took eight hours to contain and scorched a half acre, said Mike Brown, chief of the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District.

“Wildfires these days know no season,” said Forest Schafer, forester for the Incline/Crystal Bay district. “In the past, it was very rare to have wildland fires in the middle of winter, but it’s becoming more and more common.”

Neighboring North Tahoe Fire Protection District, which covers 31 square miles on the North and West shores of Lake Tahoe, has responded to roughly four wildland fires in the past few months, said spokesman Dave Zaski.

Typically, wildfire season for the area is from around Memorial Day to the end of October, he said.

“This year, it could start today,” Zaski said. “We’re dry, so the potential is it could be right now, when typically, it wouldn’t be for a couple of more months.”

DRY CONDITIONS

California is in a drought emergency, while federal officials in January declared nine Nevada counties — including Washoe — as primary disaster areas due to the dry conditions.

The latest snow survey in the Sierra Nevada found the snowpack water equivalent was 24 percent of the statewide average for Feb. 27. This comes on the heels of two consecutive dry years for the region.

“After three years of drought, trees start getting attacked by insects and disease, trees start dying and we start getting more fuel on the ground,” Schafer said.

As a result, fire officials are encouraging people to start their defensible space now. Defensible space is the buffer between a structure and an oncoming wildfire where the vegetation has been modified to reduce its threat.

“Please everybody be fire-safe — do your yard clean-up early,” Spencer said.

Within a defensible space zone — which varies among houses — dead vegetation such as trees, shrubs, branches, leaves and needles have been removed. In addition, clumps of shrubs have been trimmed or removed to create separation, while low tree branches have been cut.

“The idea is for your home to stand on its own and can survive on its own,” said John Pang, chief for Meeks Bay Fire Protection District, which extends from the El Dorado/Placer County border to the northern boundary of D.L. Bliss State Park, with a small portion of Emerald Bay.

A MONTH OF AWARENESS

In an effort to encourage residents to prepare their homes for wildfire, Lake Tahoe Basin Wildfire Awareness Week this year will encompass the entire month of May.

“... Not just fire districts, but residents need to be prepared from Day 1 to treat their property and be ready to evacuate,” Schafer said.

In addition, Zaski encourages the public to call 911 immediately if they see smoke, since early response will be key amid this year’s dry conditions.

Even getting precipitation at this point won’t make much of a difference.

“It might delay the timing, but we have to take into account that the ground does not have a significant amount of moisture, so the fuels will be drier, quicker,” Spencer said.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Mar 26, 2014 09:40PM Published Apr 7, 2014 01:56PM Copyright 2014 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.