Fire’s potential quickly recognized
Fire experts knew the Gondola Fire had the potential to threaten homes on Kingsbury Grade as soon as they laid eyes on it.
Within 45 minutes of smoke being spotted by passengers on the gondola, eight engines, two helicopters and two air tankers battled the blaze but it still raged on, driven by winds and acre upon acre of dry fir and pine.
“We knew this had the potential to go to Kingsbury,” said Brian Schafer, chief at Lake Valley Fire Protection District. “And with the added value of the ski area, the gondola and environmental considerations in the Tahoe Basin, the decision was made to order Type One right away.”
A Type One order means firefighters are dealing with a complex fire. It also means a team of 40 to 60 highly trained fire managers are headed from somewhere in the country to Lake Tahoe Basin.
Kit Bailey, fire management officer at the Lake Tahoe Basin, said he made the order for Type One “right off the bat.”
The Type One crew was expected to arrive at South Lake Tahoe on Thursday at 6 p.m.
“I was very pleased with the Forest Service’s ramping up the response,” Schafer said. “My understanding is that if things continue to go well, they’ll be on the scene but the transition won’t actually happen.”
As of Thursday afternoon, firefighters had 60 percent containment and worked to complete a fire line, a trench dug down to mineral soil, around the blaze. If the blaze is fully contained today, the mop up and rehab process will begin. It could take weeks, Schafer said.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” he said. “When the sun goes down, we’ll have the night to work. The fire line survived today, and if there are no new burn periods, we can reasonably expect them to do the same tomorrow.”
It’s likely the houses, the ski resort and gondola have escaped danger, but the fire will not let us forget what happened, Schafer said.
“What we have lost there is forest and we’ll have a scar to remind us.”