Homeowners take action on defensible space | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Homeowners take action on defensible space

Gregory Crofton
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune Rick Nicholson, Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District fire marshall, right, talks about clearing ladders away from a home Wednesday to Cave Rock resident Richard Beito. Officials from the TDFPD and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency toured the Hidden Woods community to develop defensible space around homes.

The Tahoe-Douglas fire chief called it a historic moment.

Lake Tahoe residents, the fire department and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency were all on the same page Wednesday working to reduce fire danger around homes.

And it’s not just talk. Four homeowners on Hidden Woods Drive, off Highway 50 north of Zephyr Cove, are in the process of having wood shingles ripped off their roofs and replaced with asphalt ones more resistant to fire.

Jesse Jones, a forester at the TRPA, and Jeff Cutler, a forester at North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, worked together to mark trees that need to be removed around homes. They will begin coming down in the next two or three weeks, according to Cary Sarnoff, president of the Hidden Woods Homeowners’ Association.

The U.S. Forest Service is on board too. Starting next week crews from the agency will begin clearing downed trees from a canyon behind Hidden Woods Drive.

“This is huge,” said Bruce Van Cleemput, chief of the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District. “We’ve never been able to be here with this many experts. The impact of this will last hundreds of years; of course we’ll need to do upkeep and maintenance.”

Sarnoff knows how devastating a wildfire can be. He owns a vacation home at Lake Arrowhead in Southern California. His house escaped the fire that destroyed homes last fall.

“That could happen here. The goal is to pick our own fire,” Sarnoff, 57, said. “We live in a forest. We know one will occur. We can’t control the fire. We can’t control the winds, but we can control the fuels.”

Sarnoff said there is 100 percent participation from the 24 homeowners in the Hidden Woods association, which became a chapter of the Nevada Fire Safe Council more than two years ago.

As a chapter of the council, there is also one at Glenbrook, the Hidden Woods association was able to secure a $40,000 grant from the federal government. It will help fund forest fuel reduction on public land around the neighborhood.

It will cover the cost of removing some trees on the fringes of private property, where a falling tree would not mean damage to a house or other private property, Cutler said.

“What I learned today is that we can’t do all the tree removal with the grant money,” Sarnoff said.

Almost all of the trees on private land that need to be removed will have to be paid for by the homeowner – which can cost from $500 to $1,000 a tree. One property inspected Wednesday had 10 trees marked for removal.

Richard Beito, 54, who has a home near Cave Rock, heard about the Hidden Woods neighborhood walk through and came down to learn what he could.

“I just had trees trimmed … now I’m considering having them removed because they are within 10 feet of my house,” Beito said. “I don’t have a great deal of landscaping. For these poor people who have spent thousands, it’s a great deal to swallow.”

Sarnoff and Beito said their motivation to make their homes fire safe was inspired by a string of recent wildfires. The Gondola fire burned nearly 700 acres next to Kingsbury Grade in 2002. Fires in Southern California burned thousands of homes in 2003. And the Waterfall fire, contained on Tuesday, destroyed 15 homes and burned 8,700 acres west of Carson City.

“Fire is on everybody’s mind,” Beito said. “If we don’t get this stuff done now, the motivation will run down.”

Sarnoff and other members of the homeowners’ association credited Charlene Meenan as their inspiration to start a chapter of the Nevada Fire Safe Council at Hidden Woods. Meenan started a Glenbrook chapter and is the chairwoman of the council’s mentor program.

“They inspire me more than I inspired them,” Meenan said. “They are just great. They are working really well with the Tahoe Douglas fire department.”

The department’s collaboration with Hidden Woods started about six months ago. Chief Van Cleemput said he wants it to become a model to use for other homeowner’s associations in his fire protection district.

The Glenbrook community is one-third complete with its work to create a defense zone by thinning trees between homes and the forest. The job is on track to be done by spring 2005.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is definitely no longer a train,” she said. “It’s really exciting and something the community really supports.”

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

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