Chief’s Corner: Reflecting on summer fires, planning for future
With the seasons changing and the weather cooling off, we are finally able to take a moment to relax and reflect back on the challenges of this past summer.
With fresh snow covering the burn scars of the Caldor and Tamarack fires, it would be hard for a tourist to even notice the massive events we lived through. Although none of us will ever forget the fires of this past summer, it is important that we recognize they were not outliers but rather foreshadowing of what’s to come.
With the harsh realities of global warming, wildfires will continue to be part of life in the Tahoe Basin. We were fortunate that our local firefighters held the fire from destroying any homes in South Lake Tahoe, but it does not mean we can let our guard down when it comes to preventing future fires.
The impacts climate change is having on our forests include warming weather, droughts, lower fuel moisture in the vegetation making it more flammable, and lower relative humidity, increasing how fast and hot the fires burn. None of these conditions are in our favor. The fact that the Caldor Fire started outside the Basin and moved into South Lake Tahoe is an indication that we are facing a new reality. Fire prevention must be a high priority of all the communities of Lake Tahoe.
Proper defensible space clearing, fire-resistant building materials and evacuation preparedness are some of the key components that need to be a way of life for us. And what is predictable is preventable.
Under the direction of a fire marshal, the city is creating a formal Fire Prevention Bureau that has several positions funded by grants and additional staff positions to improve the community’s wildfire preparedness. With over 15,000 parcels in the city, we determined that four defensible space inspectors are needed in the field to be able to inspect every property on an annual basis. Additional staff will manage office duties that include grant sourcing and management, notifications to residents, public education programs, evacuation planning, and building inspections.
Since we essentially live in a forest, these programs will be a constant work in progress. Despite the city developing and adopting an evacuation plan on Aug. 3, just prior to the Caldor Fire, these should be considered working documents. Even though the evacuation of the community went relatively smooth considering the circumstances, a lot went into the planning.
When the actual call for an evacuation took place at 9:18 a.m. Aug. 30, a week of long hours from all the Emergency Operation Center staff in preparation had taken place on top of all the work put into developing the initial evacuation plan. These types of plans need constant updating and constant input from all stakeholders involved to make sure that future evacuations go safe and smooth.
Please take the winter to enjoy Tahoe and have fun with your family, but plan on gearing up come spring to ensure your home and property are prepared for the coming wildfire season.
Clive Savacool is the fire chief for South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue.
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