Lake Tahoe agencies lend hand with fires
As South Shore fire agencies send crews to fight Northern Nevada wildfires, concern is growing that too many resources may be scattered too far away so that in the event of a fire in the basin, fighting it may get off to a slow start.
South Lake Tahoe, Lake Valley Fire Protection District and Tahoe Douglas Fire Agency have engines on the 6,000-acre Linehan Fire burning near Carson City. While the departments are fully staffed at home, at least one fire official believes there could be a quagmire if more fires erupt this week.
“The worrisome part is that the whole region is getting depleted of resources and if we have a major fire, it could take a long time to call resources to our area,” said Curtis Fields, battalion chief for Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District.
On any given day, there are 60 firefighters on staff in the entire Tahoe Basin, according to Ray Zachau, fire marshal with the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department. In the event of a fire in the basin, a department will respond and depending on the nature and level of the fire, they will call for backup from other fire agencies.
If there are multiple fires in the basin, however, mutual aid resources may get stretched thin, Fields said.
The last major fire in the basin was the 2002 Gondola fire, which was given priority 1 fire status, meaning fire agencies from around the West made it the No. 1 fire to fight. The 672-acre fire that burned along the Gondola line at Heavenly Mountain Resort happened on July 3.
With fires raging on throughout Nevada, getting firefighters to Tahoe may take some time, Fields said.
“The difference now is that they are committed elsewhere at other states,” Fields said. “Even though Tahoe would be a priority fire, it still takes time to get everyone back.”
While fires are burning outside the basin, Tahoe is in a unique situation where it is surrounded by several fire agencies, said Rex Norman, spokesman with the U.S. Forest Service for the Lake Tahoe Basin. With the fire activity in the area, some of the basin Forest Service crews are assisting, and that assistance is needed.
In addition to the fire protection districts here, resources can be called upon from three National Forests bordering the basin, and air resources very close by, Norman said.
An additional advantage the Forest Service has is its relatively small geographic size, and 360-degree road access around the basin. This reduces the time necessary to reach a community area that might be at risk from a wildfire, Norman said.
“Most of the basin has yet to see significant drying of surface vegetation and fuels, but soon these will dry enough that a potential fire could quickly spread,” he said. “We urge all residents and visitors of the Tahoe Basin to exercise great caution with all potential sources of ignition. A little bit of common sense makes a big difference.”
Lake Valley Fire chief Jeff Michael said his men fought the Linehan Fire all Monday night and were to take a break at the command center on Tuesday afternoon.
Tahoe Douglas has three firetrucks dispatched, two at the Linehan Fire near Carson City and a one in Elko. The protection district is fully staffed at all of its stations on the lake side of Douglas County.
South Lake Tahoe has one engine at the Linehan Fire with three people assigned to the engine. Lake Valley Fire Protection District also has one engine at the fire, with five people staffing it. Fallen Leaf Department also has one engine staffed in Carson City.
– Tribune staff writer Amanda Fehd contributed to this report.