Caldor Fire: What now? (Opinion)
It has been an intense few weeks. Since canceling our annual Founders Circle Dinner on Aug. 18, we’ve seen wildfire come into the basin and the complete evacuation of South Lake Tahoe. We cannot express our gratitude enough for the amazing firefighters who helped keep the Lake Tahoe community safe.
First and foremost on our minds is the welfare of the people most impacted by the fire. As we have shared out in the past, we recommend supporting organizations that are working to help in this area. The Barton Foundation’s Emergency Response Fund is assisting local families and individuals facing food insecurity challenges brought on by the fire.
Our board has been discussing how we can help and what happens now. We wanted to share a quick update with you on our thoughts on the post-fire work ahead.
The Caldor Fire is still not out, but we have already learned a great deal from the intensive firefight that took place as the fire crested Echo Summit and entered the Tahoe Basin. The fire was unstoppable in its march to the basin due to areas with unnaturally dense forests and dried-out vegetation. Simply put, we have too much fuel in our forests and we need to find solutions to get it out.
A key learning is how important the forest thinning and fuels treatments around South Lake Tahoe were in helping improve the odds for the firefighters. The treated areas gave the firefighters room to maneuver, dropping 100-plus foot flames down to 15 feet. The great defensible space work of individual homeowners is also another important piece of the story.
Through our Smartest Forest Fund we are already investing in state-of-the-art technology to help decrease the threat of catastrophic wildfire around the Tahoe Basin. We recently granted funds to Vibrant Planet for Tahoe Basin stakeholders to use a first-of-its-kind land management tool, Land Tender, to help increase the pace and scale of forest restoration work. We are more determined than ever to expand upon this work in partnership with the public agencies. We hope you will support these efforts.
While the fire was held outside of the community of homes in Tahoe, it scorched many favorite trails. In addition, the dozer lines used to help suppress the fire unfortunately also destroyed many trails. The Tahoe Rim Trail around Echo Summit and many trails built and loved by the Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association were heavily damaged. There is going to be a lot of trail restoration work in our future. We have pledged to our trail building partners that we will be ready to help fund this important work when the time is right. I hope we can call on you for your support of this effort.
Given the fire is still burning and the fire area of the forest is closed until January, this trail work is not going to happen until the spring at the earliest. We hope a big winter will bring much needed moisture. (Please get those snow dances going now!) In the meantime, the US Forest Service Burn Area Emergency Response team is on the ground assessing the damage from the fire and associated suppression efforts so they can quickly move into restoration work before that massive snow starts flying.
With weeks on end of heavy smoke and ash falling, we can’t help but wonder what the impact is on the lake’s famed clarity. We recently pledged funding support in partnership with other Tahoe agencies for a RAPID response science proposal from the Tahoe Science Advisory Council to investigate the influence of the wildfire smoke on the lake. This will provide important insights into the impacts and help drive future clarity improvement efforts.
As we await these results, the Clean Up The Lake team is back in the water and continues to make progress in their scuba clean up of the lake after a delay due to the fire.
We are breathing a little easier now that blue skies have returned to Tahoe and hope you are too. We know we have much work ahead, and look forward to using the power of philanthropy to support Tahoe.
Amy Berry is the CEO of the Tahoe Fund and Allen Biaggi is chairman of the board.
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