Eyes from the sky to aid fire plan | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Eyes from the sky to aid fire plan

Gregory Crofton

The highest-resolution, commercial imaging satellite in the world will be key in allowing fire officials to assemble a wildfire prevention plan for the Lake Tahoe Basin by August.

At a forum in South Lake Tahoe last month, Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called for urgent fire planning at the basin in light of the destructive wildfires that occurred in Southern California.

“This is great news,” Leslie said. “With the Lake Tahoe fire officials and the Fire Safe Council working so hard, it looks like we’ll make that August deadline.”

The satellite, called QuickBird, is so precise it can discriminate between healthy stands of trees, beetle-killed trees and, most importantly, identify small, dense stands of trees, which pose the greatest wildfire threat. It can also determine how flammable someone’s roof is.

The technology has only been used for one other forest-mapping project, which involved a 250-square-mile area southwest of Denver. The work was completed in less than three months.

“That’s basically (the time) we have here,” said Jennifer Arrowsmith, administrator for the Tahoe Basin Fire Safe Council.

The company that will process the satellite images for Tahoe, the Native Communities Development Corporation, has partnered with the Davey Resource Group, tree experts from New Mexico, to get the fire planning done on time.

Work will cost $140,000, half of what it typically would run. Grant money from the Bureau of Reclamation and El Dorado County is expected to fund the project. Tahoe being such a high-profile area, and the fact the technology is still so new, led to the reduced price.

“We’re interested in doing this at cost savings for the Tahoe area because it provides a very unique geography and geology to test this system one more time,” said William Whatley, director of operations for the Native Communities Development Corporation.

Land to be mapped by QuickBird will include the areas served by the Fallen Leaf Fire Department, Lake Valley Fire Protection District and Meeks Bay Fire Protection District.

The other fire districts in the basin – North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, South Lake Tahoe Fire Department and Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection Districts – have fire-planning work under way and are on track to meet the August deadline.

The fire districts plan to conduct a series of public workshops to discuss drafts of the fire plans before they are finalized.

“We really want to turn this into a collaborative process,” Arrowsmith said.

Information in the plans will be used create a prioritized list of forest fuel reduction projects.

“Hopefully that list will provide (fire) officials the information they need to get funds for specific projects,” Arrowsmith said. “We have to demonstrate a need for the dollars to reduce the fire threat.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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