Lake Tahoe Forest Service to conduct fall prescirbed burns and wildfire management
Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team — a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service, state and local land management agencies — announced the start of their fall prescribed fire program for the Tahoe Basin this month.
“Prescribed fire is an important tool used to maintain forest health and reduce the buildup of hazardous fuels,” said U.S. Forest Service fire management officer Kit Bailey in a press release. “Cooler, wetter, fall weather is an ideal time to carry out these projects that will help reduce the chance of wildfire and provide added protection to communities in the Lake Tahoe Basin.”
Prescribed burning typically occurs in the fall and spring, with occasional operations in winter if conditions allow.
All burning decisions will be dependent on weather and conditions. Announcements for planned burns may come on short notice, within a week or even a few days prior to burning. Because the Forest Service manages roughly 75 percent of land in the Tahoe Basin, much of the burning will fall under their jurisdiction. State-managed urban parcels could also be under consideration for planned burns. California State Park officials announced plans this week for prescribed burns in Burton Creek State Park and Sugar Pine Point State Park on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore. No specific date has been set, but those burns could start as early as Tuesday, Oct. 13.
Both state and federal agencies said they take weather patterns into consideration for smoke dispersal.
“We work very closely with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to get our weather forecast,” said Cheva Gabor, Tahoe Basin Forest Service public affairs officer. “I think sometimes people think we lick our finger and stick it out the window to see the weather.”
Prescribed fires are assigned for two reasons. They are used to minimize wildfire risk by thinning forests and burning excess fuels that could cause a fire, or as understory burning (along the forest floor) to replicate natural fires and encourage ecosystem health.
“These landscapes are used to fire. There are plants that depend on fire,” Gabor said.
Current prescribed burn plans are to reduce fuels. Speaking on behalf of the Forest Service, Gabor explained, “right now we have a backlog of prescribed fire acres” for that purpose.
Those concerns need to be addressed prior to understory burning for overall forest health.
“Our fuels in the basin are too heavy. Our forests are really thick,” Gabor said. “Prescribed fire is a way to not have wildfires happen.”
The burning process involves stacking piles of fuels for fires in a prescribed area. Those burn piles then are typically left to dry for two years or more.
“It’s got to cure. If we try to burn it too fast, it will not burn well and put off a lot of smoke,” Gabor said, adding that the piles do not pose an increased risk of wildfire. “There’s a misconception that it increases the risk.”
Should a burn pile catch fire accidentally it would be manageable, she said, adding that it is also unlikely.
Temperature, humidity, wind, surrounding vegetation and dispersal of smoke are all taken into consideration when assigning a prescribed burn. Agencies also coordinate with state and local county air pollution control districts when making a decision. Fire crews conduct test burns of individual piles prior to any operation in order to confirm conditions.
“Sometimes the opportunity for a burn will come up on short notice,” Gabor said. “We try to get conditions where the smoke will go up and out of the basin.”
The Tahoe Fire and Fuels team reports that they will give as much advance notice as possible prior to a burn.
Typically, agencies do not formally close areas for prescribed burning. Currently the Forest Service does have two parcels closed for management near Camp Richardson and Tahoe Mountain, on the edge of the Angora Burn. Gabor said those closures apply to when operations are underway. The public may use the Tahoe Mountain trailhead access points if there is not active work taking place.
News releases regarding prescribed burn plans are often released on Fridays, but can also be issued a day or two prior to a burn. To receive prescribed fire notifications, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Information is also available through the Tahoe Basin U.S. Forest Service website or at http://www.tahoefft.org.
Tahoe National Forest Lifting Fire Restrictions
U.S. Forest Service officials announced this week that fire restrictions in the Tahoe National Forest were lifted as of Tuesday, Oct. 6.
Recent precipitation and conditions in the forest prompted the decision to end restrictions. Visitors to the forest may have campfires outside of designated campgrounds with a valid California campfire permit; smoke outside of designated sites; and operate internal combustion engines off forest roads and trails where appropriate. Campfire permits are free from any Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, or California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) office. You can also obtain a campfire permit online at http://www.preventwildfireca.org.
“Although fire restrictions have been lifted, forest fires can still occur,” said forest supervisor Tom Quinn. “Warm, dry and windy weather conditions are still likely outside of our traditional fire season, and that means the fire danger is still present. Please continue to be careful with fires while in the national forest.”
The Forest Service reminds visitors to never leave campfires or lit lanterns and stoves unattended and to make sure equipment and off-road vehicles have working spark arresters. Other wildfire prevention practices can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/r5/fire-aviation/prevention.
While restrictions have been lifted for the Tahoe National Forest, Cal Fire continues to have a statewide burn ban.
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