Leaders give behind-the-scenes look at Caldor Fire | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Leaders give behind-the-scenes look at Caldor Fire

Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire, El Dorado Irrigation District and the El Dorado County Resource Conservation District held a community meeting in Pollock Pines Nov. 10 on the topic of Caldor Fire recovery now that the blaze is in the rearview mirror.

“The fact that folks may not know unless you’re in the fire service is that the system was as taxed as it ever has been,” said Eldorado National Forest Supervisor Jeff Marsolais.

Dry fuel conditions this year were setting all-time records for almost 60 days before the Caldor Fire began, according to Marsolais.



He reported that the cause of the fire is still under investigation but that “it won’t be too long” until information is released.

Fire fuel reduction

Speakers made the case that fuel treatments on the forest lessened Caldor’s destruction.



Years before the Caldor Fire, preparations were in place such as the Caples Watershed Project that included a control burn to protect portions of El Dorado County drinking water, in addition to a forest-wide resilience strategy that removed fire fuels.

“Once you have an area that has had those fuels removed, burning them and maintaining those areas is pretty easy,” said Mark Egbert of the Resource Conservation District.

Fuel reduction treatment also helped hotshots fighting the Caldor Fire on the ground with firing operations.

Other areas treated even as recently as this spring include El Dorado Irrigation District and National Forest land around Jenkinson Reservoir as part of state-funded South Fork of the American River Watershed Cohesive Strategy and Fire Adapted 50 projects that aim to create resilient landscapes, fire-adapted communities and safe and effective wildfire response.

So when the Caldor Fire came right up to that treated land in August, it found little to burn.

Not too far from there, the Pollock Pines-Camino Fire Safe Council with the help of state funds had also completed fuel breaks along Weber Creek. Those fuel breaks stretch from Starkes Grade at Sly Park Road up to the end of Lynx Trail and following the ridgeline to the community of Rancho Del Sol. Grant funds also allowed for road clearance to create a southern evacuation route for Rancho Del Sol.

Going forward Egbert said the first phase of repair will be to remove as much dead and dying material as possible in Grizzly Flat and then to reforest.

From there they will go into Omo Ranch and along the U.S. Highway 50 corridor.

Teamwork

When the fire began Marsolais said they knew it would be bad almost immediately.

“We saw it was going to get big by the end of the first big shift,” Marsolais said. “We knew this was going to be a Type 1 incident. We placed an order for a national team and none were available anywhere in the nation.”

He said crews were doing everything they could with what was available, but due to other fires like the Beckwourth Complex Fire and the Monument Fire, a plethora of resources weren’t immediately available and “the fire was outpacing us two-to-one almost daily.”

Through that, responding agencies figured out a plan together.

“Behind the scenes leaders (stepped) forward and supported each other through the toughest of times,” Marsolais said.

Cal Fire Unit Chief Mike Blankenheim said that the fire could have been 10 times worse.

He said that it was unfortunate Pollock Pines had to be evacuated for about 16-17 days, but that the fire was “extremely close.”

“We’re just starting to assess the real impact,” Blankenheim said of the nearly 222,000-acre Caldor Fire.

Watch the recorded meeting online at tinyurl.com/avn8uvb6.

Eldorado National Forest Supervisor Jeff Marsolais speaks to South Lake Tahoe leaders Aug. 24 before the South Shore was evacuated.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

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