Fire officials: Defensible space lacking in South Lake Tahoe |

Fire officials: Defensible space lacking in South Lake Tahoe

While one burned, the other had defensible space. / Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Walking among the devastation caused by the Angora fire on Tuesday, it would take a stretch of the imagination to describe the space surrounding many of the homes as “defensible.”

“I haven’t seen any homes with defensible space,” Noel Yoshiwara, a firefighter with the city of Reno, said near Zuni Street, where many of the homes were heavily damaged. “There are plenty of places just like this all around the lake.”

Pine needles covered the ground in many areas, trees crowded houses and dry branches lingered perilously close to the roofs of the homes still standing.

“We’ve seen pine needles right against the houses,” said Eric Dieffenbach, fire captain with the city of Reno, off of Zuni Avenue on Tuesday. “Some survive with (pine needles next to thier house), and some don’t.”

With the exception of some properties surrounded by large swaths of land cleared of combustible materials, determining what saved some homes, while destroying others was a difficult task.

While many lawns were just as burnt as their surroundings, patches of green grass stood out among the largely charred surroundings. Several firefighters mentioned lawns as critical components of defensible space, but none guaranteed defensible space practices would save a home, especially considering the extreme nature of the Angora fire.

“We kept it nice and clean,” said Schyler Beaty, a South Lake Tahoe Police officer, as he surveyed the few remnants of his grandmother’s home. “It’s just luck of the draw as far as how the fire is hopping through the trees.”

Flames tore through the forest crown throughout much of the fire. Tree branches close to homes can cause fires to jump from homes to trees, and vice versa.

“Limbs touching houses is what started a lot of these,” said Larry Ochoa, strike team captain, leading five north Tahoe fire departments against the blaze on Tuesday.

Another group of firefighters from the North Shore also said shake roofs and native vegetation within 30 feet of structures make homes more susceptible to fires.

Piecemeal defensible space efforts may have cause the blaze to flourish, according to one basin homeowner who lost his property on Boulder Mountain Road during the Angora fire.

Jeff Glass credited defensible space work he did on adjacent lots as saving his neighbor’s home, although it was not enough to save his own.

“If two or three around you do it, but the guy next to you doesn’t, it doesn’t do any good,” Glass said during a phone interview Monday. “It needs to be a group effort.”

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