Officials commemorate Angora Fire anniversary, first responders (photos)
Out of the devastation of the Angora Fire came real and meaningful change, both in policy and practice, in the Tahoe Basin. Those improvements along with the first responders who battled the blaze were thrust into the spotlight at several events Saturday, June 24, marking the 10th anniversary of one of Tahoe’s most devastating wildfires.
Attendance at both events hovered around 70 people, with public officials and personnel from various agencies making up the majority of those in attendance. Both at the earlier ceremony, which recognized the firefighters and other first responders, and the later Angora Fire commemoration ceremony, speakers emphasized the shortcomings highlighted by the fire and the work to correct course in Angora’s aftermath.
“Your leaders, your agencies, your neighbors and your responders have not failed you,” Kate Dargan, one of the co-chairs of the bi-state Blue Ribbon Fire Commission that was created after Angora, told the small crowd gathered on the Valhalla Grand Lawn Saturday.
“You’ve made a difference and you should be celebrated today for the hard work that you have done. Not to say that we’re completely finished but this progress is amazing.”
Specifically, Dargan and other speakers referenced the report generated by the bi-state commission. It contained, according to Dargan, 90 recommendations regarding fire safety, and of those 90 recomendations 90 percent have been initiated, are in progress or have already been completed.
“This needs to be shouted around the world as a model for restoration and recovery after devastating fires,” Dargan said, while challenging local officials to spread that news far and wide.
For those local officials, the South Shore community’s resilience is Angora’s true legacy.
“I would just like to celebrate our community,” said Leona Allen, a member of the Lake Valley Fire Protection District board and a Meyers resident whose house burned down in the Angora Fire, as did the home belonging to her 90-year-old father. Collectively the family had two of the 254 homes destroyed in the fire.
Allen happened to be the dispatcher on Sunday, June 24, 2007. Within 40 minutes of the Angora Fire being reported, members of the community started calling the dispatch line. The callers were not reporting an incident or seeking information; rather, they were volunteering to help.
“It was people who wanted to help. ‘I have room for a couple of extra dogs’ or ‘I have an extra bedroom’ or a motel owner saying ‘I have 10 free rooms right now — whatever you guys need let us know’ … it was overwhelming,” Allen told the Tribune, echoing sentiments shared by others in attendance.
“This is what our community does, we come together in times of need, we take care of each other and I love that about our community,” El Dorado County Supervisor Sue Novasel told the crowd.
While the community did rally together, it took time in the immediate aftermath of the fire for some of the vitriol and accusatory claims to die down, noted Eli Ilano, forest supervisor for the Tahoe National Forest, who also lost his home in the Angora Fire.
Some residents pointed their fingers at federal land managers and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. A headline in the Tahoe Daily Tribune in the weeks after the fire read “TRPA under fire.”
Ilano recalled organizing a public meeting at South Tahoe Middle School with the intent of bringing people together as a means of supporting one another. It did not play out exactly that way.
“I wish I could tell you that that’s the whole of the story and everyone responded in that way, but we all know that’s not exactly what happened,” Ilano told the crowd. “Because the reality is when people are hurt and angry sometimes their reaction is to blame people and to express their anger, and that unfortunately started occurring that night and for sometime afterward.”
However, the community eventually stopped blaming each other and that, as a Tahoe resident, is inspiring, Ilano said.
“That’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not easy to let go of that anger and that blame but the people of this community were big enough to do that.”
South Lake Tahoe Mayor Austin Sass also noted the declining toxicity and a shift in outlook on the part of the South Shore community to one that is more positive and collaborative.
“We are at a point now where I can honestly tell you, and I’m not shining anybody’s shoes here this is the God’s honest truth, in the 42 years I’ve been here this is the most positive I have ever seen the South Shore of Lake Tahoe,” Sass said.
“We are positive, we are prepared, and we live in a great place and things are going to be great.”