Erosion at fire site an concern |

Erosion at fire site an concern

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

U.S. Forest Service helicopters today will drop pine-needle mulch near Heavenly’s Olympic Ski Run to protect burned land from erosion.

Erosion concerns are common after a large fire, but at the Lake Tahoe Basin erosion is more of a worry because scientists believe sediment and nutrients entering the lake are decreasing its clarity.

Earlier this week, soil scientists, hydrologists and other specialists surveyed damage caused by the 672-acre Gondola Fire.

A preliminary report on what the steep, erosion-prone land will require for rehabilitation may be released today, said Rex Norman, U.S. Forest Service information officer.

The report should also specify what rehabilitation will cost and may include recommendations to plant trees and shrubs, leave downed trees in place and other erosion controls.

The fire has “basically taken all the vegetation off the steep slopes,” said Ron Heinbockel, an official from Plumas National Forest now in charge of the burned area.

Heinbockel expects rehabilitation funding will be provided in short order.

“It should be a quick turnaround,” he said. “They’ve got to have the money before winter and fall when it starts raining and snowing.”

Firefighters have already “mopped up” at least 400 feet inside the 5.5-mile fire line, which sits on the side of a mountain between the Heavenly Gondola and Upper Kingsbury Grade. A mopped area means all standing dead and burned trees are cut down and hot spots are extinguished.

“In some areas, we’ve gone to 1,000 feet,” Heinbockel said. “The smokes are well within the interior. Our policy right now is to not go in and get those.”

Heinbockel said it’s not worth risking the life of a firefighter to put out what are mostly burning stumps.

The number of firefighters working the burn has dropped from a peak of about 700 on the ground to 170. Heinbockel said his team may be gone by Saturday and control of the area will be turned back over to Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

“This won’t be called out for months,” Heinbockel said. “When you call a fire out that means there is no heat in it at all. I’ve had a fire in my district we didn’t call out until there’s a foot of snow on the ground. There’s no need to rush it.”

The Forest Service is still investigating the cause of the fire. Thus far, the agency has said “carelessly discarded smoking material” sparked it.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or at

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