Homeowners keep watchful eye on burns | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Homeowners keep watchful eye on burns

A drip torch filled with diesel and gasoline ignited a pile of brush about 30 yards from a Zephyr Heights house.

This time of year the U.S. Forest Service uses controlled fire to eliminate piles of wood slashed from the crowded forests of the Lake Tahoe Basin.

“A lot of the work being done is near homes because that’s where the threat lies,” said Rex Norman, spokesman at the Forest Service.

The burning of piles on Thursday took place on a Forest Service lot off Hillcrest Road. No one was home at the house closest to the fires, but two neighbors said they supported the burning.

“I’m not crazy about it, but I’d rather have them do the burning there than have my house burn down,” said Heather Peck, 49. “Nobody likes the smoke. I have terrible allergies. But if we don’t do it, we have to be willing to have the forest go up like a tinderbox.”

Ken Munn, 49, who also lives on Hillcrest, said piles burned close to his home about two years ago. He said he got a little nervous when flames from a pile reached up to char needles on healthy trees. But Munn said it never got to the point where he felt unsafe. “They had full control,” he said.

But was he concerned about the burning happening near his home on Thursday? He responded with a question. “There is a fire truck over there, right?”

Yes there was. Two fire engines and four firefighters worked the burns. Hoses attached to a nearby hydrant were used to spray shrubs around the piles to keep the fire from spreading.

Piles take about four hours to burn. Firefighters douse them with foam and water and then mix the ground to ensure that they are extinguished.

“I know there are some residents out there who are unhappy no matter what we do,” said John Washington, captain at the Forest Service. “You do have to use caution, fire is a dynamic thing.”

The Forest Service began pile burning Oct. 16; later than usual because this fall has been so dry. Burning will continue until heavy snowfall.

In October, fire officials estimated that around the Lake Tahoe Basin there are 2,000 acres of piled brush and dead wood that need to be burned. Wood chipping is also an option. But it is an expensive and often cumbersome operation because industrial chippers are large, noisy and not always available, Norman said. When the brush and trees are chipped they get spread across the forest floor.

“A lot more study needs to be done whether chipping and spreading would be an option on a larger scale,” Norman said. “If chips are mixed into soil they create some chemical changes. If they stay on the surface, impacts are pretty minimal.”

The Forest Service has done some chipping along Pioneer Trail, where it also has done a lot of pile burning, and at the North Shore.

“With chipping, you’re not removing the fuel you’re just changing the shape of it,” Norman said. “If you do get a lot of wind or extreme fire behavior, the chips might be a problem.”

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

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