Wildfire scorches 84 acres Monday north of Lake Tahoe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Wildfire scorches 84 acres Monday north of Lake Tahoe

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Emergency crews worked quickly to extinguish a wildfire that charred 84 acres Monday in the area of Boca Reservoir. The blaze — dubbed the Boca Fire — started for unknown reasons at 3 p.m. and ballooned to 75 acres by 6 p.m., officials said. It eventually grew to 84 acres before it was 100 percent contained by 10 p.m. Monday, according to the U.S. Forest Service. No on was hurt and no structures were threatened, said Paul Spencer, public information officer for the Truckee Fire Protection District, and the nearby Glenshire subdivision was never in danger. The fire burned off Interstate 80 near the old Boca township, east of the reservoir's dam. "I live on the bluff directly across from the fire; had a bird's-eye-view," said Truckee resident Marianne Porter. "Scary, but amazing and impressive action by local and state fire officials." The nearby Boca Springs campground, east of the reservoir in the Tahoe National Forest, was evacuated as a precaution, according to USFS. People were allowed to come back Monday evening. Windy conditions and the dry nature of the Sierra landscape due to the ongoing drought enabled the blaze to spread and run up the slopes east of Boca. Forward progress was stopped just before 6 p.m., according to Truckee Fire. Officials from Truckee Fire and USFS, as well as Calfire, North Tahoe Fire Protection District, North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, Squaw Valley Fire Protection District, Meeks Bay Fire Protection District and Northstar Fire Protection District responded. In all, 21 engines, four air tankers, three helicopters, four water tenders and two dozers, along with several ground crews, responded.

Donner divers clean up lake

TRUCKEE – Nine rescue divers clad in long underwear under their drysuits dipped into the rippling 51 degree water at Donner Lake’s west end boat ramp last week. In teams of two or three their heads disappeared below the breezy surface and they began their search – for garbage. As part of ongoing under-water search and rescue training, rescue divers from the Placer County Sheriff’s Department, Truckee Police Department and the Truckee Fire Protection District logged under-water hours while pulling sunken tires, pipes and junk off the lake’s bottom. “Today we found everything from beer cans and bottles to a picnic table and tires,” said Truckee fire Capt. Rod Brock, training officer for the joint-agency dive team. “The police department was going to do a surface clean up (on the lake), and we needed to schedule a dive anyway, so it just naturally came together. I think that we will just make it an annual event.” Last year, dive teams responded to a drowning at Boca Reservoir, and a drowning and a near-drowning at Donner Lake. “The dive team is used for rescue, not for sustained searches,” said Truckee fire Capt. Craig Harvey, the dive team supervisor for both the Boca and Donner Lake drownings. “In cold water drownings, there is still a one hour window in which the person can be resuscitated without brain damage.” After that, the window gets smaller.” To prepare for such rescues, divers train monthly and practice everything from ice diving to low-visibility search techniques. These trainings take serious planning because diving at elevation in waters that are often below freezing increases health risks for anyone venturing into the deep. “You could spend a lot of time in 70 degree waters in a thin wet suit,” Brock said. “But in the cold waters that we have, stress is added to the body; hypothermia is the main issue.” At elevation, divers can only safely venture to about 80 feet, which is equivalent to about 120 feet deep at sea level, according to Truckee Police Sgt. Tim Hargrove. Divers must also carry extra weight to fight buoyancy and plan for slower ascent rates. But once such factors have been considered, diving in Donner, Lake Tahoe and other local waters can be safe and even enjoyable for recreational divers. It’s no Barrier Reef, but might still be worth the thrill. “You see fish; mostly trout. A lot of people dive for crawfish,” Hargrove said. “Here, it’s more about just getting in the water and diving, not finding ship wrecks.”

Shooting restrictions affect Tahoe region, gun safety urged

The Carson Ranger District recently issued a shooting restriction on its lands due to multiple wildfires in western Nevada that burned approximately 500 acres between May and June. And while the fires are still under investigation, there have been indications that someone taking target practice was the culprit. The Carson Ranger District covers thousands of acres of land, including the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, and stretches from Markleeville in California to north of Reno in Nevada. "We have a lot of problems with people not picking up their brass afterward," said Erica Hupp, public affairs officer at Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. "People have also used trees as targets and brought out sofas and TVs. We have the restriction in place, but our big push has been for people to [shoot] safely and responsibly." According to Hupp, the restriction will be enforced through September or until conditions improve. Hunting is allowed, however, if the proper permits and areas are being used during designated seasons. With all of this going on so close to Lake Tahoe, anyone looking to fire off some rounds will need to review where to go and what rules to follow. According to South Tahoe Police Department, discharging a firearm in certain areas is not permitted. "You can't shoot within the city limits," said Lt. Shannon Laney, public information officer at SLTPD. "You can go to Douglas County and Carson City. They have ranges there." Gardnerville has a range and may be the closest to those in South Lake looking to get some outdoor target practice in. The Douglas County shooting range is located at 875 Dump Road in Gardnerville. If you're in Carson City, the Carson Rifle and Pistol Range has some facilities and they are not affected by the shooting ban. "The Carson range is still open and it's the only place [in Carson City] you're legally allowed to shoot," said Randall Brooks, range administrator at Carson Rifle and Pistol Range. "Anything in the Carson Ranger District, which includes Toiyabe National Forest that goes into Lake Tahoe, target shooting is prohibited." There are a couple spots in the Truckee area that provide some open outdoor shooting. "There's a place called Boca and they have a range out there," said Paul Purchard, of Truckee Tahoe Firearms. "It's by the Boca Reservoir, off of Highway 80. It's not manned so there aren't any fees or anything like that." According to Purchard, the closest indoor range is in Reno. The U.S. Forest Service does have general guidelines for shooting on USFS land. As indicated by the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, shooting is allowed on USFS land as long as proper safety guidelines are followed and there aren't local or state ordinances that prevent shooting. They recommend firearms not to be discharged within 150 yards of a structure, occupied area, within or into a cave, or across a road or body of water. It is also suggested that any area used for target practice has a backstop that can absorb rounds and not deflect debris. Aside from just the shooting, keeping an area safe and clean can be a challenge if it's unsupervised. "We sometimes get a concentration of people in one area shooting and trash accumulates or people take things out to shoot and leave it," said Michael Woodbridge, public affairs officer for Tahoe National Forest. "I think the local gun club here helps keep the Boca shooting area clean and tries to manage it." Woodbridge also said if anyone does go target shooting, a tree isn't a good target. "If you shoot a tree or something like that, that's resource damage," he said. "People just need to be aware so they don't get a citation."

Seedlings to be given away today

The Tahoe Resource Conservation District and the University of California Cooperative Extension will hold a native Jeffrey pine seedling giveaway from 5 to 7 p.m. today at the Lake Tahoe Demonstration Garden at Lake Tahoe Community College, One College Drive, South Lake Tahoe. Home-landscaping guides, “Living With Fire” guides, packets of wildflower seeds and free landscaping materials from Tahoe Sand and Gravel also are among the giveaways at the event. The U.S. Forest Service has donated 850 seedlings to give away to homeowners affected by the Angora fire. If your property was affected by the Angora fire, you also can sign up to receive up to $500 of native vegetation and receive $1 per square foot for planting water-efficient landscaping. For more information on the plant giveaway and vegetation plans, contact the Tahoe Resource Conservation District hotline at (530) 543-1501, ext. 113, or Susie Kocher at (530) 542-2571.

A block party of the conservation kind

Burning coals and burning houses are two parts of a barbecue designed to raise awareness of fire safety measures in the Lake Tahoe Basin this weekend. The “Conservation Block Party” will conclude with demonstration fires on parts of a model home. “We need to have people understand what will actually burn down your house,” said John Pickett. “That is what this demonstration will show. It’s going to be great.” Details of a home, such as screens over attic vents, are often the barriers that will prevent it from burning during a forest fire, according to Pickett. In addition to a guided walking tour highlighting the defensible space and best management practices utilized by nearby homes, information on a streamlined permitting process for California residents will also be available. “It’s easy; it’s painless; we’re not going to clear cut your property,” said Pickett. Three fire protection districts on the California side of the basin have been recently granted memoranda of understanding from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. These memorandums allow the districts to issue tree removal permits for defensible space projects, making the process more efficient and cost effective, according to Pickett. “We really encourage people to come out and find out how easy it is to get this work done now,” Pickett said. A free barbecue will take place between the walking tour and burn demonstration. Parking will be limited, and the event’s sponsors urge carpooling. Conservation Block Party When: Saturday, June 2 Guided Walking Tour: 10:30 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. Free barbecue lunch: 11:40 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. Live Burn Demo: 12:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Where: Boulder Mountain Drive, across from Lake Valley Fire Station No. 5 Registration is encouraged for the event. Call the Tahoe Resource Conservation District at (530) 543-1501 ext. 113 to RSVP.

Tahoe’s water level dropping

A second slow winter in a row could mean water stops spilling over the dam at Lake Tahoe, cutting off the flow at the top of the Truckee River. Despite abundant snow early in the winter season, an uncharacteristically dry spring has meant runoff hasn’t kept up with evaporation, dropping Lake Tahoe’s level in months that traditionally refill the lake. “The lake may come up a few hundredths of an inch, but this looks like it’s about as high as it’s going to get,” said Chief Hydrologist Chad Blanchard with the U.S. District Court Water Masters Office. The level of Lake Tahoe, as of Monday, was 6,225.48 feet, Blanchard said. “We’ve had terrible inflow – almost as bad as last year, and last year, the snowpack was much less,” Blanchard said. Because almost all precipitation fell as snow, the soil never saturated, and snowmelt went into the ground rather than running into Lake Tahoe and other reservoirs, Blanchard said. Coupled with high winds that evaporated both the lake and snow, this spring goes into the record books as the worst for lake rise in 108 years, along with 1977, Blanchard said. “The rise into Tahoe in March and April was actually negative – evaporation was higher than inflow,” he said. This could mean that by the end of the year, Lake Tahoe could drop another 2.5 feet to the natural rim at 6,223 feet in elevation, stopping flow over the dam, Blanchard said. “The river would go dry until it gets further downstream, but by that time, hopefully we’ll get new moisture,” Blanchard said. Tributaries and reservoirs further downstream could maintain the minimum “Floriston Rate” of flow, however, and the Water Masters Office would draw heavily on Boca to maintain water supply for Reno and Sparks, he said. “Boca could get very low but should be at a pretty good level most of the summer,” he said. But Lake Tahoe dropping below its natural rim isn’t uncommon, Blanchard said, listing 2003, 2004 and 2005 as years where the rim was reached. He said he expects to be able to get through this year on the water available but is hoping for a better winter for 2008-09. “If we get another dry year, we are going to have a problem,” Blanchard said. The North Tahoe Public Utility District won’t have any problems drawing water from the lake, said Lee Schegg, public works director for the district, as they use submersible pumps well below lake levels. “Our supply is unimpacted by the lack of precipitation,” Schegg said. But boat launches will be another story, he said. “The Tahoe Vista recreation area definitely shuts down within 1 foot of the natural rim,” Schegg said. “We’re already going to restrict to shallow-draft.” Elsewhere, Prosser reservoir has pretty much peaked out at 21,207 acre-feet, compared with its 29,840 acre-feet total, and will be drawn down to 9,800 acre-feet by the end of the year, Blanchard said.

West Shore ambulance service not settled

Residents of the West Shore of Lake Tahoe have an emergency on their hands – or at least they will, if something isn’t done soon. On Tuesday, Fifth District Supervisor Dave Solaro spearheaded the creation of a citizens committee to explore ambulance service options to the West Shore. The ambulance dilemma was one of the main items on the agenda at the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting at Tahoe Paradise Park on Tuesday. Currently, the communities of Meeks Bay, Rubicon and Tahoma are under service with the North Tahoe Fire Protection District. But NTFPD is raising its fees in June – from $38,000 per year to $113,000. If West Shore residents decide they want to keep NTFPD, they must somehow come up with the money. One idea is a sales tax, which would go before voters in June. Another option is increased parcel fees. Or, West Shore communities could contract with Lake Tahoe Ambulance in South Shore. “Contracting with South Lake Tahoe is not really not an option for us,” said Edward Miller, president of the Meeks Bay Fire Protection District Board of Directors. “There are distance and weather concerns. You can’t say to people who call 911 that it’s going to take two hours for an ambulance to get there.” Solaro and Second District Supervisor Ray Nutting will be working with West Shore communities to plan their next move. “Ultimately it will be up to these communities as to what the final outcome will be,” Solaro said. “But we’re here to help.” Solaro indicated that one solution could be for a contract with South Lake Tahoe for ambulance service, using NTFPD as a backup during times when the roads are closed due to snow.

Wildland fire erupts near Truckee

A wildland fire broke out Sunday afternoon in the rugged terrain between the town of Floriston and Boca Reservoir in Nevada County. As of late Sunday evening, the fire was estimated by the California Department of Forestry, Nevada-Yuba-Placer Ranger unit, to be at 325 acres. Hand crews were reporting difficulty in accessing the fire due to the steep terrain. Resouces committed to the blaze included 29 engines, two bull dozers, three helicopters and 14 hand crews. Air tankers were also working the fire, with four bombers dropping retardant. The Sierra Front Fire Interangency Minden dispatch reported they had reassigned one of their Nevada air tankers to the Floriston fire at 4:15 p.m. The tanker was in the Verdi area already fighting three smaller fires when the Floriston fire erupted. The cause of the fire has not been determined and CDF’s preliminary estimates are for containment of the wildland fire by 6:00 p.m. today.

Which invasive weed threats exist? Find out Friday in the SouthShore

A self-guided tour in South Lake Tahoe this week will offer a look at the threat invasive plants pose to the Lake Tahoe Basin, including several species recently identified by U.S. Forest Service scientists as poised for rapid spread after the Angora fire. “Burned areas provide opportunities for invasive plants to establish quickly because of disturbed soil, release of nutrients, and lack of competition,” according to the forest service’s Burned Area Emergency Response report. One station will host a presentation on the early detection of invasives, while four other stations on the tour will focus on specific plants, like Scotch broom. Because of the invasive ornamental plant’s volatile oils, it can create a fire hazard, but is still widely available at nurseries outside the basin. “Scotch broom is really a flammable plant that could pose a high risk in the future,” said Jenny Francis, backyard conservation resource planner for the Tahoe Resource Conservation District. “We’d like to let people know what to look for.” Talks will start at all five stations promptly at 9 a.m., 9:45 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m. and noon. Each talk will be repeated at each station five times during the morning, beginning at the appointed times. Tour participants will be given directions to each site and can visit all or part of the presentations in any order. Those interested in carpooling should meet at 8:30 a.m. at the Tahoe Resource Conservation District Office at 870 Emerald Bay Road. Registration for the tour is free and can be completed on-line at http://ucanr.org/lake-tahoe-weed-tour-form or by calling the Invasive Weed Hotline at the Tahoe Resource Conservation District (530) 543-1501 ext.113. Registrants will receive a confirmation, including directions to the tour stations.

Work begins on historic Boca & Loyalton Railroad restoration

TRUCKEE, Calif. — The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, in partnership with the Tahoe National Forest and the community of Loyalton, began work this week on converting the historic Boca & Loyalton Railroad grade to a Forest Service system trail for nonmotorized recreation. According to a news release from stewardship group, the Boca & Loyalton Railroad was said to have had the greatest effect in assisting with the growth of the economy in the Sierra Valley. The railroad ran for 26 miles from Boca (between Verdi and Truckee on Interstate 80) to Loyalton. It was constructed in 1901 and ran until 1916, hauling timber from the outer reaches of the mountains to the sawmills in Loyalton, which at the time had 5 mills in operation. According to Sierra Buttes, the project will focus on restoring approximately 8 miles of the historic railroad grade to meet Forest Service specification for a non-motorized, shared-use trail. Work will include clearing brush from the trail corridor; removing root wads from the tread area; re-constructing damaged sections of tread; and building rock structures and drains to armor the tread and to protect from sedimentation in the nearby Smithneck Creek. Funding for this project is provided through a grant from Sierra County Resource Advisory Committee (RAC).