Fire danger increases with temperatures |

Fire danger increases with temperatures

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

The largest fire at Lake Tahoe Basin since 1929 is out, but by no means is fire danger in the area decreasing.

“This week is critical with record temperatures and dry lightning forecast,” said Kit Bailey, fire management officer at the basin. “There are still a lot of people up here and potential is high to extreme for multiple start fires or another large fire. Everybody needs to have a heightened sense of awareness at the lake. If they spot something, they need to get on the horn right away.”

Fire officials also are stressing how important it is to create defensible space around a home. They also say they need residents to support thinning and other fuel reductions efforts at the basin.

“We’ve been steadily doing (reduction) and this is a case in point why we’re doing it,” said Maribeth Gustafson, forest supervisor at the basin. “We need to ensure we have the support of the community to do that work so we can be prepared should we have another fire.”

Land around the lake is full of dead wood, with only one-quarter of the thinning work that needs to be completed, said Rex Herald, Forest Service spokesman.

On average, 20 to 30 percent of the trees in the basin are dead or dying. That adds up to 45 to 75 tons of fuel per acre in some areas, Herald said.

“Those dense, thick stands may look pristine and natural, but they are not,” Herald said. “It does not matter how green the forests look, when fires break out, green trees burn, and burn very fast.”

When a fire escalates from several trees to 100 in about two hours, as it did in the Gondola Fire, homes will be threatened.

“Listen to the fire agencies,” said Lake Valley Fire Chief Brian Schafer. “We have worked closely with the Forest Service to come up with defensible space guidelines so we can have a chance to save their homes.”

To create defensible space, owners need to clear out fuels within 100 feet of their home. Guidelines don’t require the area be completely clear, but vegetation within the area needs to be well-watered and spaced apart.

“Remove ladder fuels — fuels that carry fire up off the ground into the tops of trees or a house,” said Steve Harcourt, a division chief at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “Dead limbs — take those out. Get brush out from underneath trees.”

Defensible space doesn’t mean bare dirt. Pine needles or other vegetation help prevent erosion while decreasing fire danger, Harcourt said.

For a free brochure on defensible space, call Bruce Frost, a natural resource expert at the University of California Cooperative Extension, at (530) 621-509. To find out about directives the Forest Service follows under the National Fire Plan, go to

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