Calfire: Potential for big fire season ahead in Lake Tahoe Basin

Claire Cudahy
An air tanker drops retardant while battling a wildfire near Mariposa, Calif., Wednesday, July 19, 2017. The fire has forced thousands of people from homes in and around a half-dozen small communities, officials said. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
APTOPIX Western Wildfires

After two heavy winters following five years of drought, grass and brush are thick in the Tahoe Basin, putting local firefighting agencies on high alert for the fire season ahead.

“We will see more intense fire because there is more fuel. That’s the message we’re getting from our fire behavior analysts and fuel specialists,” said Brice Bennett, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Amador/El Dorado Unit.

The 2016-17 drought-busting winter created substantial growth, resulting in the most destructive wildfire season on record for California.

In 2017, a total of 9,133 fires scorched around 1.2 million acres, according to Calfire, including five of the 20 most-devastating wildfires in the state’s history.

In the Amador/El Dorado Unit, Calfire responded to 232 wildfires that charred 2,268 acres.

“We got another decent winter this year so we have another round of growth, and what’s happened with this year is we’ve had precipitation then a warm spell, then more precipitation, then another warm spell and so on,” said Bennett. “That’s creating these different generations, if you will, of grass and brush and that makes for a very, very dense fuel load.”

Taller grass and brush creates “ladder fuel” that can carry fire from the forest floor up into the trees, resulting in a fire that burns much more intensely.

“That’s a fire that’s very challenging for the fire department to stop because it moves really fast,” said Bennett. “It’s destructive and not the way Mother Nature intended any fire to ever be.”

In preparation, Bennett said Calfire and other firefighting agencies in the basin have increased the pace and scale of prescribed burns and fuel reduction efforts.

Calfire reminds residents to act responsibly during fire season. Only have campfires in designated areas, be mindful of sparks that can be created by equipment, target shooting and vehicles, and ensure homes have defensible space.

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