Conditions for fire are very dangerous
A small fire this weekend consumed just 8 acres west of the ridge on Kingsbury Grade. The next fire could be much larger because fuels in the Lake Tahoe Basin are extremely dry, according to worried fire officials.
If conditions were right, a wildland fire on the Lake Tahoe side of Kingsbury Grade could burn bottom to top in 30 minutes, said Richard Mirgon, director of Douglas County Emergency Management.
“Usually it takes all summer to dry out our larger fuels,” said Lake Valley Fire Chief Brian Schafer. “But the conditions now are the same as they would be at the peak of our fire season.”
The fire season in California normally arrives in September and October.
“We never get what amounts to any rain over the summer,” Schafer said. “God only knows … what will happen in September.”
But Schafer said he remains confident that California has the best fire protection in the country if not the world. And the basin has a record to prove it. Fire officials say it’s been decades since a home was destroyed in a wildland fire.
Thousands of sets of eyes and a quick response time has been key to the stellar fire protection.
“There are so many people and there are such good vantage points that we catch these fires early,” said South Lake Tahoe Fire Capt. Brad Piazzo. “We use that to our advantage. It’s all about early detection.”
If a big fire does rip into South Shore, emergency evacuation plans do exist, Mirgon said.
Search and rescue workers will be called out to coordinate the evacuation, and a response team will be activated. If a wildland fire does spread on Kingsbury Grade, the evacuation route would be dictated by the location of the fire and the weather conditions, Mirgon said.
Kingsbury Grade is an especially dangerous place for a fire because it is flanked by mountains that would act like a chimney. If possible, the response team will create safety zones for residents at places such as the parking lot of Boulder Lodge or Ridge Tahoe.
South Shore got lucky Saturday because the wildland fire started about a quarter of a mile above any homes on the Grade. That fire was started accidentally by fireworks, which are illegal in the basin.
If another fire takes hold and spreads, Schafer said he would expect it to go from west to east, hitting drainage areas like Fallen Leaf Lake and the Grade the hardest.
“If the lake was a flat forest there’d be potential to take out a lot more acreage,” he said. “It won’t go from one end of the lake to the other, but it would certainly take out the drainage areas.”
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After a dry couple of weeks, the storm door may finally be opening.