Fire safety is up to all of us
Gondola, St. Pauli, Showers. They are names of fires that have burned hundreds of acres of forest in and around the South Shore this fire season.
As scary as they were to local residents, the acreage burned barely adds to the total amount of charred land in California. More than 500,000 acres in the state have gone up in smoke — and the season is not over.
Fire season often is not declared over until the first major moisture penetrates the ground. For most people, that day will not come soon enough.
Much of California is experiencing drought-like conditions. All we have to do is look outside. The water level of Lake Tahoe is a sad barometer for conditions on shore — the surrounding land is parched.
California is not alone in its horrible year of fire. Much of the West was shrouded in a haze of smoke for the better part of the summer.
Drive up Kingsbury Grade, down Highway 50 or along Interstate 80 and the scars of the flames are ugly reminders of what can happen when people are careless.
A suspect has not been named in the Gondola fire. But officials know it was started by a thoughtless smoker who flicked a hot cigarette into the tinder-dry terrain. The St. Pauli fire’s origin is unknown, though labeled as suspicious. The Showers fire erupted when a single-engine air plane crashed into the woods.
Until the National Transportation Safety Board rules on the cause of the plane crash, we cannot say all of the fires at the South Shore were unavoidable. But, still, at least two of three definitely were. It is incomprehensible how anyone could throw a cigarette butt anywhere but in a trash can — let alone in the woods. The California Department of Forestry says most fires are caused by humans — though not always intentionally.
An arsonist is the greatest threat to firefighters. For a profession that deserves all of our support and thanks, it is disheartening to think that one of their own could start a fire. But more than once this year that accusation has been made.
We need to take this recent spate of fires near the basin as a wake-up call. In the south part of the state they have not fully contained the 650,000-acre fire in the Angeles National Forest. Over the weekend, the fire in the Santa Cruz mountains was finally contained. We cannot ignore the fact that a fire on a much grander scale like these could strike Lake Tahoe.
It was 10 years ago that the Cleveland fire shutdown Highway 50, burning 24,000 acres. It disrupted life on the South Shore for businesses and individuals. Economics is a huge issue with fires in an area like Tahoe. We can easily be cut off from tourists and commerce.
No longer are fires relegated to the backcountry that were started by lightening. People are exploring areas once considered off-limits which increases the possibility of a fire starting — even accidentally. We are building in areas once considered too remote for humans. And then we are horrified when on the evening news and the front page of the newspaper there are photographs of houses bursting into flames.
As tragic as this is, we need to think about all of the policies that surround fire safety. This includes where we allow houses to be built, the access to them, when fires are allowed to burn even when a house is in the direct path. No house is worth more than a firefighter’s life.
Good planning will prepare us for the worst when it does come to Lake Tahoe.
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