Late winter burning season begins: Wood piles near Round Hill torched |

Late winter burning season begins: Wood piles near Round Hill torched

Gregory Crofton

ROUND HILL – It looked like giants had come to town, settled on a ridge and started dozens of campfires.

Really it was a supervisor for the U.S. Forest Service, Steve Franke, who used a gasoline and diesel drip torch to ignite wood piles Tuesday morning off Highway 50 near Round Hill.

The controlled burning is expected to continue through the week.

Saplings and trees growing too close to each other were cut last year from 68 acres between Lakeland Village and the commercial center at Round Hill. The goal is to reduce fire danger in the area so that if a wildfire starts, it doesn’t explode into a major blaze.

About a year later the wood thinned from the forest was dry enough to burn, and there was a thin layer of snow on the ground and light wind. Smoke from the piles drifted up through the pines and out of the Lake Tahoe Basin.

“Got to mow the lawn,” Franke, 43, said. “Try to get these piles while we’ve got a good window and light as much as we can. There’s enough moisture on the ground to keep it from creeping around.”

The Forest Service lights wood piles thinned from national forest land, which makes up more than 80 percent of the basin, whenever conditions allow. The alternative to burning the wood is chipping it, but that process is more expensive and some pile areas cannot be reached with chipping equipment.

Even though pile burning can burden homeowners with smoke and chain saw noise, residents have become increasingly tolerant of such disruptions.

“I feel people realize what happened in Southern California in the last several years can happen here,” Franke said. “If we don’t get at it and do things we’re just asking for fire. It’s cheap insurance.”

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