Nature will bring back most of fire’s damage | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Nature will bring back most of fire’s damage

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

It will take five to seven years for vegetation inside the Gondola Fire to recover, states a report released Monday by U.S. Forest Service burn rehabilitation experts.

Because the 673-acre fire was intense only in pockets, nature will be left to do most of the regreening through stump and seed sprouting expected to start as early as this year, said Sherry Hazelhurst, a leader of the Forest Service rehab team.

“In wetter areas, you’ll probably see aspens, willow and alders sprouting,” Hazelhurst said. “Some grasses might sprout, too.”

Nature will also do its own work to keep soil in place. Its controls come in the form of burned and scorched pine needles.

“All the brown needles start blowing off that provides best soil cover,” Hazelhurst said. “They tend to net.”

Rehab work by the Forest Service, slated to begin in about two weeks, is expected to cost more than $109,000.

A team of rehabilitation experts arrived before the fire was contained and worked to determine how much money would be needed to help preserve soil and nudge nature toward recovery.

More than a third of the money will go to 401 acres of Forest Service land that burned in the fire. It will pay for the cutting down of hazardous trees, some which will be left in place to stabilize steep, erosion-prone slopes.

The money will also be used for straw dams and silt fencing to prevent sediment from flowing into Edgewood Creek, which empties into Lake Tahoe and is the primary drain for the burned area.

Scientists say erosion is one thing causing the lake to lose its clarity at the rate of more than a foot each year.

Nevada state lands were hardest hit by the blaze, with 42 of the 68 acres of the hottest burning acres occurring there. Rehab experts recommend the planting of $6,000 worth of trees and spreading $15,000 in seed, fertilizer and mulch to help rejuvenate the land.

California state land had 17 acres burn, only 2 of which burned with high intensity. About 29 acres at Heavenly were affected by the fire, six of which are owned by the resort; the rest are leased from the Forest Service.

All the land affected by the Gondola fire was included in a forest closure order issued July 11. Before the land can be reopened to the public, hazardous trees must be removed.

“We anticipate doing a good share of the work (in our areas),” said Andrew Strain, Heavenly director of planning and governmental affairs. “We’re anxious to work with the specialists who will mark those trees so we can get them down. We don’t want to continue to pose a safety hazard.”

Comparatively, the rehabilitation prescribed by experts is minimal. Rehab for a wildfire that recently ripped through Colorado will cost more than $20 million, said Gary Schmitt, a regional burn area emergency rehabilitation coordinator, stationed at Vallejo, Calif.

“It was very minor compared to some other fires,” Schmitt said. “It just didn’t burn that hot. It burned patchy. It’s very good news.”

The Gondola Fire is one of 13 burn areas in California tapping emergency Forest Service funds for fire rehabilitation. The fire, started by a cigarette July 3, charred forest land that skirts Heavenly Ski Resort.

The burn ran southeast of the Gondola to the edge of Olympic Downhill, North Bowl and Boulder runs. Firefighters contained the blaze in three days after winds died and humidity rose.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com


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