Many differences between Gondola and Angora fires | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Many differences between Gondola and Angora fires

William Ferchland

The Gondola fire looms over the South Shore in July 2002. / Dan Thrift / Tribune file photo

On Tuesday, July 3, full containment of the Angora fire is expected. Coincidentally, five years ago on Tuesday, Tahoe’s other famous modern blaze, the Gondola fire, erupted.

While the two fires are connected by the same date, the two are like distant cousins with more differences than similarities.

For instance, the Angora fire spread swiftly, randomly consuming more than 250 homes, while the Gondola fire ate only forest. At 3,100 acres, the Angora fire was nearly five times the size of Gondola, which had a meager size of 672 acres.

Then there’s the differences in slope (Angora burned downhill, Gondola uphill), speed (Angora was like an Olympic sprinter), intensity (Angora burned into areas that were treated for forest fuel reduction), and cause (Angora from a campsite and Gondola by a flicked cigarette).

Still, fire officials say the Gondola fire, which burned and scarred a slope facing the lake, prompted many to think differently about prescribed burns.

Instead of being glad the sound of chain saws and bothersome smoke from prescribed burns were blocks away, people were anxious for fuel treatments to be in their own backyard, said Rex Norman with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the U.S. Forest Service.

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“That was the one that got people to say it can happen here, and it was the one that began a different relationship a lot of people in the basin had in doing fuel-reduction treatments,” Norman said.

So far, 36,000 acres of forested land have been treated to remove dead and fallen trees and other fuels within the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. That means there’s another 40,000 acres left to be treated, Norman said.

Kit Bailey, the initial incident commander for both fires, said several lessons were gleaned from the Gondola fire from a tactical standpoint.

“We got lucky on the Gondola (fire),” he said.

Fire officials have worried about a fire consuming the Angora Ridge for years. Last month, Bailey said a scenario was envisioned with similar conditions that fueled the Angora fire in roughly the same place where it originated. The scenario didn’t include any houses being destroyed, but the officials did give it the same name.

“This is a fire I’ve been worried about since I got here in 2002,” Bailey said.

Even the trees consumed by the fires are different. The Gondola fire raged in an area dominated by red firs, which have less tolerance for fire than pines — the trees burned in abundance in the Angora fire.

Thus the 5-year-old scar from the Gondola fire just above Stateline’s casinos. And the wonderment from residents affected by the Angora fire that the damage wasn’t as bad as they thought.

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