Douglas commissioners overlooking fire, first responder safety with VHR program (Opinion)
The elephant in the room was finally acknowledged by Vacation Home Rental Program Manager Ernie Strehlow at the 5 hour and 28 minute mark during the Douglas County Commissioners meeting on April 10.
Mr. Strehlow accurately assessed the dangers he saw in particular Tahoe neighborhoods containing the VHR program’s high volume of commercial activity. He mentions narrow roads, one access/egress onto Highway 50, and dead-ends with no viable turnarounds as cautions against blanket VHR density rates.
The hazard continually overlooked, however, is first responder emergency access and wildland fire in the urban interface. Even after experiencing chaotic evacuations during the 2002 Gondola Fire, the 2007 Angora Fire, and 2021’s Caldor and Tamarack fires, it seems Douglas County officials are too paralyzed to properly enforce the requirements of the International Fire Code adopted by the Nevada State Fire Marshal through the Nevada Revised statutes and the Nevada Administrative Code. Indeed, Appendix D of the IFC was formally adopted ‘in whole’ by the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District on Aug. 8, 2018.
Using requirements taken directly from the IFC, any new ordinance should contain a “Critical Non-Compliance List” as a legal and fully objective tool to measure the most hazardous neighborhoods where VHRs should be removed immediately and not be allowed in the future. These have ‘rational’ and solid ‘legal’ bases and are not “arbitrary and capricious.” They are not subjective, onerous, or burdensome rules as they come directly from IFC chapters in order to protect residents’ and firefighters’ safety.
What is subjective, onerous, and burdensome to residents trying to evacuate and firefighters doing their job safely is not doing anything to remedy a problem stemming directly from the dangerous excess of VHR occupancies and vehicles within these neighborhoods.
This list should, at a minimum, contain these three critical items:
1. A neighborhood having only one access and egress.
2. A neighborhood having any roads less than 20 feet in width, exclusive of shoulders. 3. A neighborhood that does not contain the required dimensions for turning around firefighting apparatus, especially with those containing Dead-Ends.
This is not about politics or economics. This is about resident and firefighter safety. Yes, they are inconvenient facts. Unfortunately, Douglas County officials, commissioners, and staff seem intent on ignoring them. Action is imperative before another fire season begins in earnest. Mr. Strehlow’s prudent groundwork, coupled with IFC requirements, provides the legal foundation and rational basis to remove VHRs from non-compliant neighborhoods. VHRs should be moved to areas where the county doesn’t find itself in a situation of extreme liability risk. The Little Valley Fire settlement in 2019 should be a glaring reminder that courts will not be tolerant in limiting the county’s liability cap on torts if a duty to enforce public safety requirements is recklessly neglected while continuing to promote daily transient excess that aggravates the issue.
David Winne is Glenbrook resident.
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