Nevada braces for dangerous fire season | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Nevada braces for dangerous fire season

The 1997 Nevad wildland fire season begins Friday and despite a wet winter capped by January’s flooding, state Forester Roy Trenoweth says the threat of summertime blazes is treacherously deceptive. “There has not been any significant moisture in most areas since the end of January,” he said on Wednesday. In addition to the dryness and unseasonable warmth, years of drought have killed or weakened trees and other vegetation, producing a sick condition in the forests and wildlands throughout the West. ”We’re facing the potential for explosive and rapid spread of wildland fires through the grasses, light vegetation and layers of dead vegetation debris from previous years,” he said. Trenoweth was joined by Bureau of Land Management State Fire Management Officer Kevin Hull and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests Supervisor Jim Nelson in opening the fire season in a year that already has seen 6,000 acres burn in Nevada. Last year, 1,318 fires blackened 777,116 acres across Nevada, according to the Western Great Basin 1996 wildfire summary. Along with marginal wildland conditions and new growth of grasses and light brush from the wet winter, firefighters are leery of the continuing increase of new homes in remote and woodsy regions. “The continued increase of homes in wildland areas coupled with the tremendous amount of dead and dying vegetation is producing conditions for the type of catastrophic wildland fire we all fear,” Trenoweth said. That’s particularly true in the Tahoe Basin, where homes are nestled among the dead and dying trees that remain as a legacy of the drought that ended three years ago. “We’ve still got a lot of standing dead trees,” said Jerry Adams, fire marshal for the North Tahoe Fire Protection District. “If we get something big in the basin at a time when we’re spread thin, we’re going to be in trouble. It could be awesome.”

Firefighters respond to Clear Creek blaze

MINDEN, Nev. –¬†At least three counties have responded to a wildland fire in the vicinity of Old Clear Creek Road that seems to be spreading uphill and potentially jumping Highway 50. Highway 50 was closed. There is a line all the way around the fire. Reports of smoke first came in around 11:10 Thursday morning. What started as a tenth-of-an-acre fire in brush and timber quickly consumed more than 1.5 acres,. A Douglas water tender truck broke down on the side of the highway while responding, and additional resources had to be called out. Air support from Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch in Minden was also called. Initial reports indicate power lines were damaged in the blaze. One house, located in the 3700 block of Highway 50, is currently threatened by the fire.

Wind-whipped West Slope brush fire should see full containment early today

A brush fire 10 miles west of Placerville that was sparked early Monday night and whipped by erratic winds could see full containment by this morning, fire officials said. The fire ” located at Feldspar Lane on the West Slope ” was 40 percent contained as of 8 p.m., Monday said Suzanne Todd of the Camino Emergency Command Center. So far the fire has charred 30 acres in an area with dense brush and oak trees. Wind gusts of up to 25 mph reportedly caused the fire to spread before there was a significant air and ground attack, Todd said. Crews, however, were able to get a good grip on the fire about the time winds had calmed, she added. Responding to the fire are 18 engines, six crews, two dozers, one air tanker, one air attack unit, two helicopters and three water tenders. The cause is under investigation. The fire happened nearly 10 hours after Cal Fire Amado/El Dorado Chief Bill Holmes announced staffing changes to reflect the upcoming fire season for the region. Beginning at 8 Monday morning Cal Fire transitioned into its summer preparedness levels for fire season in Amador and El Dorado counties. The declaration allows Cal Fire to begin staffing fire stations and equipment on a 24-hour basis and hire seasonal firefighters to help protect California’s wildlands, Holmes said. “Each year we see disasters that could have been prevented,” Holmes said. “Cal Fire cannot stress enough that now is the time for all California residents to take action. Create defensible space around your homes, become involved in your local Fire Safe Council, and be extra careful when recreating in our wildlands this summer.” Visit the Cal Fire Web site at http://www.fire.ca.gov for more information on fire safety.

UPDATE 4 p.m.: Crews getting handle on wildfire near Fallen Leaf Lake

Cabins and structures remain threatened in a 12-acre wildland fire that is burning this afternoon in the El Dorado National Forest off of Cathedral Road near Fallen Leaf Lake. After initial reports of “significant spread” that theatened cabins and other structures in the area, attack on the fire with airplanes and helicopters have significantly slowed the spread down, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The fire is burning in brush and trees toward Fallen Leaf Lake. Some of the fire path is moving to the west into an area with large rocks and the lake which would make it a natural barrier, said Peggy O”Connell, a Forest Service dispatcher. While flames have come close to cabins in the area, there are fire crews on standby near the homes to protect them, she added. Trees were reportedly burning rapidly in the area, with at least four trees burning at their crowns. The fire as of 4 p.m. was reportedly 12 acres in size and is producing a heavy amount of smoke. Fire engines are staging at the meadow area beyond the Snopark off of Cathedral Road. The fire is burning west of the lake. Three helicopters, four airtanker and several engines have been dispatched to the scene along with several handcrews. Gusty wind conditions are expected into the afternoon. Developing…

Fire in Stanislaus won’t harm Tahoe

Residents who see smoke or haze this weekend on the south end of Lake Tahoe may be surprised to know that the fire causing it is miles from the area. And it’s prescribed so it won’t be spreading to the Tahoe Basin. The Stanislaus National Forest started administering a major prescribed burn Thursday near Bear Valley Mountain Resort. Officials are burning 2,400 acres. It should take two to three days, according to the agency, but residual smoke from the fire may last as long as two weeks. According to the Forest Service, the objectives of the action are to: “Reduce standing brush within the boundaries of Bear Valley Mountain Resort to enhance downhill skiing opportunities, improve and enhance habitat for a variety of plant and animal species, improve conditions for domestic livestock and develop a buffer adjacent to the Mokelumne Wilderness to allow for future wildland fire-use opportunities.” The entrance to the resort has been temporarily closed.

Local firefighters report from front

They live in California but took a two-day road trip in a fire engine to fight a blaze in Wyoming. A group of Lake Valley fire fighters joined an emergency strike team and left town Aug. 20 to battle wildland fires threatening homes north of Jackson Hole. Today, after more than a week of training and clearing wood in the area, the Lake Valley team is expected to leave its engine behind, take a boat trip across Jackson Lake and attempt to stop the progress of a 2,000 acre fire known as “Wilcox Complex.” “Their new assignment is to take tents, portable pumps and food and get dropped on the other side of the lake,” Lake Valley Fire Chief John Ceko said. “Their safety zone is the lake.” Ceko said the team plans to pump water from the lake and use it to battle the blaze. They will also cut fire lines, do some “burning out” and extinguish any spot fires. Digging fire lines is considered an offensive move meant to control and confine a fire. “Burning out,” the act of burning the vegetation between firefighters and the blaze is more of a defensive move, one that Ceko said the strike team will likely employ. Lake Valley’s strike team consists of five OES engines. Set apart by their yellow paint, OES engines are owned by the California’s Office of Emergency Services. The state buys and pays for the maintainence of the trucks, but they are used and kept at fire departments throughout the state and called on in times of emergency. Sending a strike team from California to Wyoming is very unusual. Lake Valley Captain Jerrry Lucas, a firefighter who has worked in Lake Valley for 27 years, said OES emergency calls are rare and the engine, until now, has never traveled out of state farther than Nevada. Lake Valley’s OES engine teamed up with OES trucks from North Tahoe Fire, El Dorado County Fire and Sacramento fire departments. Lake Valley sent three paid firefighters and two volunteers to man its engine. On staff, the department keeps a total of 18 paid firefighters and 18 volunteers. Lake Valley’s strike team will be joined on the edge of Jackson Lake by a strike team from the Bay Area. With almost a million and a half acres of land burning in the United States, is Tahoe Basin the next place to catch fire? The fall is the time of year when the state is most susceptible to wildland fires because it’s the driest and most windy season. “We have an overstocked forest right now,” said Tahoe-Douglas Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Van Cleemput. “We have a lot of heavy fuels and many of these fuels are dead. The conditions are right for the spread of a catastrophic fire.” Despite it being ripe for a fire, the basin has not experienced any major fires, ones greater than 1,000 acres, this century. Tahoe-Douglas Fire Captain Rich Nader attributes the success to aggressive management by the U.S. Forest Service and alert residents. “People spot them quick,” he said. “People are very aware of fire because it’s a beautiful area. They don’t want to see it go away.” Breakout Ways to Keep Your Home Wildfire Proof – create defensive space around the house by clearing trees and brush – clear away “ladder fuels” such as grass that leads to brush that leads to trees – put a spark arrester on the chimney – cut tree limbs 10 to 15 feet back from the chimney – keep your roof clean and free of pine needles

Fire strikes familiar location

The St. Pauli fire, named after a nearby inn, started July 26 and burned 330 acres of forest along Highway 50 at Ice House Road. The cause of the fire has been determined to be suspicious but is unknown. It burned portions of land that had been reforested after the Cleveland fire, which happened 10 years earlier. “It’s kind of a bummer,” said Bob Carroll, tree specialist at Eldorado National Forest, eying the damage. “The only good thing; it was small compared to the last one. “ The St. Pauli fire burned 240 acres of national forest land and 90 acres of private land. It cost more than $300,000 to extinguish. “It was a very successful put out,” Carroll said. “The vegetation was low and we were able to use tanker drops more effectively.” There are no immediate plans to revegetate the land because the fire burned a relatively small area, officials said. The Cleveland fire burned 24,000 acres of public and private land. It cost $18 million to extinguish and shut down the highway, an artery to South Shore, for about a week. Why is this area such a fire zone? It experiences a lot of activity: trucks, cars, logging, campers and hikers, Carroll said. To prevent more wildland fires, Eldorado National Forest each year thins about 22,000 of its 600,000 acres, said Frank Mosbacher, forest spokesman. Eldorado also starts controlled burns on 4,000 acres each year when weather permits. The burning eliminates unwanted brush and small trees in an effort to create a more fire resistant forest. — Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

Fire contained at Mount Tallac trailhead

Crews from the U.S. Forest Service and Fallen Leaf Fire Protection District were called to a wildland fire on the west side of Fallen Leaf Lake late Monday afternoon. As of about 6:30 p.m., a 200-gallon air tanker from Bridgeport, Calif. was able to knock down the blaze with water taken from Fallen Leaf Lake. Brian Schafer, assistant fire chief with the Lake Valley Fire Department, estimated the size of the fire at about one-third of an acre. Schafer said when the fire broke at about 4:30 p.m., the Forest Service and Fallen Leaf firefighters were working on it with just hand tools. An air tanker from Minden that was supposed to relieve them was diverted to another wildland fire off of Kingsbury Grade that was determined to be a more immediate threat, delaying the water relief even further, Schafer said. “The Forest Service felt if the fire picked up, it could be a threat to some of the structures around here, so we sent three engines in,” he said. “They’re feeling confident about it, and will be on the scene until it is out.” The fire was somewhere on the Mount Tallac trailhead over the ridge from Fallen Leaf Lake. The area is primarily covered with manzanita and brush fuel, which is more susceptible to forest fires, Schafer said. The origin of the fire could not be confirmed by Monday’s press deadline.

Fire burns on Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay was active with more than tourists Wednesday. A small, hot fire broke out at 1:30 p.m. between two buildings on the northeast corner of the popular tourist destination off Highway 89. But it was quickly contained by three fire agencies bringing five engines just north of the Emerald Bay Vikingsholm trailhead. A helicopter unit was called back when it became apparent the U.S. Forest Service, Meeks Bays Fire and North Tahoe Fire had the quarter-acre blaze under control within minutes. It was fully contained by 3:30 p.m., and a crew stayed to mop up and water the area down, the Lake Tahoe Management Unit spokeswoman Linda Massey said. The cause of the blaze is unknown. Firefighters expressed concern over the heat of the fire, which was fueled by manzanita brush. The spot fire’s proximity to two structures located about 20 feet apart had firefighters jumping. “That was our primary concern,” Meeks Bay firefighter Chuck Malone said. “If it had gone under a deck, it could have been pretty bad.” Fire units describe an atmosphere filled with apprehension, with blazes consuming scattered areas of northern Nevada and California and a potentially bad fire season still in the air. This summer is among one of the driest in Lake Tahoe and Reno’s driest ever. “The potential is there any time to get wind that could be disastrous,” Malone said. He urged the public to use common sense during this volatile time. This means not throwing cigarette butts out of vehicle windows and extinguishing all camp fires – firefighting units’ biggest problem, he said. The California Department of Fire Protection warns homeowners before every potentially bad wildland fire season that blazes are sometimes sparked by power tools such as weed whackers and even lawnmowers. They can light a fire if the tool is laid in the brush.

Governors, Cabinet secretaries agree to cooperate to fight fires

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) – Western governors and Cabinet secretaries agreed Monday to help implement a national plan aimed at reducing wildfires. The memorandum of understanding is a centerpiece of the Western Governors’ Association annual summer meeting here. Governors from 14 states and U.S. territories, and premiers of six Canadian provinces were meeting to discuss common issues, such as wildfires and electricity transmission. The 10-year plan calls for improved prevention and suppression of wildfires, particularly those near populated areas, by reducing brush and debris that can fuel catastrophic blazes. It also seeks a long-term solution for wildlife habitat restoration and rehabilitation. Last August, in the midst of one of the most disastrous wildland fire seasons in 50 years, President Clinton directed the secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to develop what became known as the National Fire Plan. More than 8 million acres were scorched last year, most of them in the arid West. That compares to about 1.9 million acres that have burned so far this fire season, which ends in October. When funding the 2001 appropriations, which led to the hiring this summer of more than 5,000 additional firefighters, Congress called for a strategy for reducing wildfire risks over the next decade. The memorandum of understanding signed by leaders of the western governor’s group and by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Interior Secretary Gale Norton promises a detailed roadmap by May 1, 2002 for implementing the plan. The price tag for thinning forests to reduce the amount of fuel fires can burn, and for teaching landowners about reducing fire risks will be ”a very significant increase” over current funding, Norton said. Lyle Laverty, U.S. Forest Service national fire plan coordinator, said Agriculture and Interior got about $1.7 billion more this year than the previous year to carry out provisions of the national fire plan. ”We continue to evaluate what the appropriate level of funding is going to be,” Norton said. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, who chaired the governors’ committee that drew up the collaborative approach to reducing wildland fire risks, said Congress will have to be persuaded to increase funding every year for a decade so the fuel reduction projects can be completed. Sluggish federal environmental reviews will need to be sped up to allow the projects to be completed, without sacrificing environmental considerations, Kitzhaber said. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth said he was ”quite nervous” about the amount of dead wood, brush and debris in the forests that could lead to catastrophic wildfires. ”The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be” to clear forests of fire fuels, he said. ”This is going to be a 10-, 15-, 20-year effort and how well we do will depend upon whether we get the funding to do it.” Bosworth’s boss Veneman, and Norton, who oversees Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs firefighting efforts, said Congress has supported funding the national fire plan. ”Congress was very receptive and has included, essentially, the levels we requested in our budgets,” Norton said. ”It was because we had this collaborative process showing an agreement on what the level of need would be.” — On the Net: Western Governors Association: http://www.westgov.org/ See Related Stories: Interstate 80 closes; Major traffic jams Nevada, California, Oregon battle fires