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Caution advised in hot, dry summer days

Area fire protection officials are worried severe summer weather conditions could spark wildfires in the Tahoe Basin.

The fire level danger is set at extreme for the Tahoe Basin, because of the high temperatures, low humidity and dry thunderstorms that distribute lightning but no rain.

Dave Pike, National Weather Service meteorologist, said a fire weather watch was issued just south of Lake Tahoe on Monday because of the likelihood of dry thunderstorms.



“We’re looking at a similar pattern most of the week,” Pike said. “But there will be more precipitation later in the week as a moist air mass moves in.”

Pike said a record 102-degree temperature was reached in Reno on Monday, and he doesn’t expect a huge reprieve from the hot, dry conditions.




“We haven’t had precipitation since June,” Pike said. “When you go that long without rain, your humidities go way down and the plants start drying out.

John Lilygren, of the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, said the South Shore is also suffering from unusually hot temperatures and low humidity.

“Normally we don’t see conditions like this until the end of August,” Lilygren said. “When the humidity is low, the brush, logs and dead trees lose moisture easier and burn hotter.”

Chief John Ceko, of the Lake Valley Fire Department, said wildfires are caused by a combination of lightning and careless people.

Ceko said the Autumn Hills fire that destroyed several acres of land two years ago, was caused when children poured gasoline on lizards, lit them on fire and allowed them to run through the woods.

Ceko said although fire safety is important, the biggest culprit of widespread wildfire damage is something firefighters cannot control.

“It always comes down to wind,” Ceko said. “If you get a fire with no wind, it’s not going to spread very fast. If we get strong winds that’s what worries me.”

Ceko said as soon as South Shore conditions get as severe as Southern California, wildfires are inevitable.

The Tahoe Basin had three lookout towers with people who kept watch over the forests almost four years ago. Now the forest service has a radar sensor system, which monitors the frequency and intensity of lightning that strikes in the basin.

The South Lake Tahoe Fire Department is mainly equipped to handle structural fires, however, the Lake Valley Fire Department, which covers 80 square miles of the basin, has equipment that can fight wildfires.

Ceko said Lake Valley Fire has a small four-wheel drive vehicle able to reach off-road fires.

Assistant Chief Brian Schafer for Lake Valley said the steep slopes of the basin are the most difficult places to contain fire. Schafer said once a fire is started at the bottom it goes up the slope too quickly to stop.

Schafer said areas off Upper Truckee, Angora Ridge and Zapotec are the most at risk for fire danger.

Fire protection officials suggest people use common sense during the hot, dry season.

– Call the U.S. Forestry Service to find out where campfires are allowed and to obtain necessary permits.

– Do not allow children to play with matches or extinguished cigarettes.

– Do not throw lit cigarettes out of vehicle windows.


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