Governors sign agreement to form Blue Ribbon commission
MEYERS — As a sign of unity in the wake of the Angora fire, the Lake Tahoe Basin’s two state governors signed an agreement Wednesday to form a fire commission intended to review forest management practices in the Basin.
California and Nevada Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Gibbons used the Lake Valley Fire station in Meyers as a backdrop to define the mission of the Blue Ribbon Fire Commission.
The fact-finding panel will consist of 17 voting members, each governor appointing eight and the U.S. Forest Service appointing one. Up to six additional non-voting members can be appointed by the governors. The commission will disband two months after delivering its report.
The governors have made more appearances than usual on the South Shore since the wildland fire consumed 3,100 acres and 254 homes and $151 million to fight. No one was seriously injured. It started as an illegal campfire at Seneca Pond the night before it erupted June 24 in the North Upper Truckee area and up Tahoe Mountain.
“It’s important we all work together so (the fire victims) can rebuild their homes as soon as possible. That’s the key to this — is to help people through this tragedy and make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Schwarzenegger said.
The governors told the Tahoe Daily Tribune they’ve been touched by the fire and the devastation it left behind.
“I feel bad when people talk about their personal belongings. You can’t replace those,” Schwarzenegger said.
Gibbons told the Tribune he empathizes with the fire victims since enduring his own indirect experience years ago. His garage was crushed when a tractor fighting a nearby wildland fire rolled off a hill and fell on it.
“Whether or not your house was burned, we’re all affected. I’ve heard the frustration, and that frustration has led us to this point today. We want to solve the problem,” the Nevada governor said.
Gibbons called the fire a learning experience on several fronts. Questions and tempers have been raised regarding forest fuel reduction practices and whether agencies tasked with sustaining the environment have created gridlock at removing the dead and dying trees and the undercover of flammable material.
For Gibbons, the concern is extensive — especially given steep slopes, dry conditions and the wind patterns that would easily funnel a catastrophic fire up the ridges.
“Our all-time fear is to have a fire race up Slaughterhouse Canyon,” Gibbons told the Tribune of the area above Glenbrook on Tahoe’s east shore.
Forest management policies need to be reviewed, Gibbons added. He also recommended the Blue Ribbon Fire Commission evaluate evacuation practices. Routes in county and state emergency preparedness plans are not defined, complicating matters when people ask.
Norma Santiago, Tahoe’s District 5 Supervisor for El Dorado County, emphasized the importance of communicating the policies that do work.
There are methods for alleviating the impact on the land in stream environment zones, areas in which limitations exist for mechanical fuel reduction. For example, hand crews are able to use chain saws in these areas according to the Lahontan Water Board’s state regulations. Pine needles may be eliminated for defensible space measures within 5 feet of a house, and trees under 6 feet in diameter can be cut down without a permit.
“We need clear identification of the charge,” Santiago said before the governors’ conference.
“One of our biggest problems is we have perception and we have reality,” she said, pledging to make logjams to reducing the debris a thing of the past.
“We intend to start building Sept. 1,” she said.
California Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, has high hopes for the task before local, state and federal authorities.
“We’ve got to make this happen,” he said.
His Republican senatorial colleague, Dave Cox of Auburn, echoed the sentiment.
“I think these recommendations will be valuable,” he said.