Newly-elected state Senator Brian Dahle speaks on fire preparedness at Lake Tahoe
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Newly-elected state Senator Brian Dahle felt he had to come to Lake Tahoe to speak about wildfires.
His cautionary remarks came before a group of roughly 100 people who gathered at the senior center Tuesday for a fire preparedness meeting hosted by the Tahoe Neighborhood Group.
The discussion, like so many around the state, was framed in the context of increasingly destructive and deadly wildfires.
“I wanted to come here and share with the community that they need to be prepared,” Dahle, a former Lassen County supervisor and state assemblymember, told the Tribune before the meeting began. “We’ve had fire suppression for a hundred years, but our forests are not in the state where we can stop catastrophic wildfires.
“A forest that has been thinned, stays alive,” he added later while speaking to the entire room.
Dahle asked residents, even pleaded with them, to be responsible and make sure they have defensible space around their houses and have their insurance policies up to date.
“A lot of groups don’t want to cut trees, but we have to,” Dahle said. “We have to open up the canopy with limbs not touching each other. These fires are moving, at times, faster than a football field per second.”
Dahle told the Tribune he is working in Sacramento to “remove the burdens” on regulations and felt Senate Bill 901 that passed last year and provides $1 billion for vegetation management was a step forward.
He also voted in favor of a bill he said passed a couple days ago that will update the 911 emergency system for the first time since the ‘70s.
But none of that will help Lake Tahoe communities in the immediate future if a blaze breaks out, so he stressed the importance of residents doing what they can to save their properties.
“You have to remove the fuel,” Dahle said. “Please do your defensible space, it could save your home.”
The meeting began with Tahoe Neighborhoods Group member Scott Robbins walking the audience through a timeline of Paradise’s Camp Fire using dramatic imagery and emergency scanner chatter.
The blaze claimed more than 80 lives, according to CalFire, and destroyed 18,804 structures.
Robbins showed how fast the fire devastated the community, how there was an emergency communication breakdown, and how the escape roads leading into, and out of, Paradise, resemble Tahoe.
The neighborhood group handed out an “Emergency Evacuation ‘P’ List,” a list of eight words starting with “P” to help residents prepare for an approaching wildfire, such as important things to pack, what should go into an emergency kit, and other ideas and tips.
The group also handed out detailed maps of neighborhoods that showed every exit out of those areas.
A member of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office helped audience members sign up for emergency alerts on their mobile phones.
A resident from the Golden Bear neighborhood talked about an emergency evacuation drill the neighborhood performed and the website they developed (goldenbearha.org) to keep residents informed.
The meeting then turned to a question and answer session with South Tahoe Public Utilities District General Manager John Thiel, Jim Drennan of South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue, City Councilor Tamara Wallace, South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Brian Uhler, Fire Adapted Communities Program Coordinator Carlie Murphy and a couple of STAR (Sheriff’s Team of Active Retirees) volunteers.
Drennan said he felt confident in initiating all emergency alerts for residents in response to a question and then also addressed evacuation plans for the South Shore.
“You cannot evacuate South Lake Tahoe,” Drennan said. “We don’t have the infrastructure, the roads to evacuate.”
He said an evacuation plan is in the works, but if U.S. 50 turns into a parking lot like many expect, people should head for open spaces like school fields, paved places like the Y, beaches and the lake.
“But if you do get in a boat or kayak, don’t try to row to Tahoe City,” Drennan said. “ The wind during a fire is probably going to make the lake a dangerous place. Stay close to the shore.”