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Breezes clear smoke from basin

Patrick McCartney

A controlled fire that caused murky skies over Lake Tahoe Sunday should not have been set because of stagnant weather, said a Calaveras County air quality official.

The U.S. Forest Service set a 1,450-acre fire in Stanislaus National Forest Friday as part of its goal to burn up to 13,000 acres of the 1.5 million-acre national forest this year.

But Sunday was a no-burn day in the area, and more than 500 complaints poured into different agencies as thick smoke caused respiratory and other problems, said Lakhmir Grewal, the Calaveras air pollution control officer.

“Somebody should be chastised,” Grewal said of the decision to burn the final 500 acres on Sunday. “Right now, the air is so stagnant you wouldn’t believe it. People are calling and saying ‘I can’t breathe.'”

Grewal said his office may take action to penalize the Forest Service once he completes an investigation of the weekend fire.

Lake Tahoe’s air quality improved significantly Monday as a weak disturbance moved through the area, sweeping the basin’s sky clean with northeasterly breezes.

Winds should weaken today, but remain from the north, according to Larry Osterman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno.

Temperatures should warm this week as a high-pressure system builds up again, but then drop again by the weekend.

On Monday, California State Parks set a 10-acre controlled fire on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore, but waited until winds were blowing from the northeast, so that smoke would drift out of the basin.

“The smoke we had this weekend is pretty typical of what we can expect from the acreage we’re talking about in the future,” said Gary Walters, fire ecologist for the state parks Sierra District.

Air quality is one of the key concerns for the increasing number of public agencies that are using prescribed fire to reduce the buildup of fuel in Western forests, Walters said. Wind conditions and moisture are two of the key variables in the “prescription” that forecasts how a fire will behave.


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