Guest View: Agencies work together to prevent wildfires
May 18, 2008
Editor’s note: May 17-24 is Nevada Wildland Fire Awareness Week.
As we rapidly approach the summer season, we are vividly reminded of last summer’s Angora fire, Washoe fire and the fire siege in Southern California. These devastating events touched us all in different ways and will continue to remind us that our communities are not immune to the effects of wildfires.
After the Angora fire, the governors of California and Nevada established the California-Nevada Tahoe Basin Fire Commission. The commission heard testimony from experts regarding fire suppression and environmental protection and land management. It also received findings and recommendations to develop post-fire actions to reduce wildfire risk and better prepare the region for a rapid and successful response should a wildfire occur. It has completed the scheduled eight-month public hearing and is working hard to refine and prepare the report to the governors of both states.
The report takes the 120 findings and recommendations and places them into six categories: environmental protection, governance, community and homeowner safety, forest and fuels management, fire suppression, and funding. To view the draft commission report, go to http://resources.ca.gov/TahoeFireCommission.
Of the Tahoe Basin’s 205,000 acres, the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit manages approximately 160,000 acres. California state lands, which total approximately 32,000 acres, are protected by the LTBMU Fire Management Office under a “balance of acres” agreement between California and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
This agreement is not limited to the basin but is applied statewide and encompasses protection responsibilities for approximately 1 million acres. The remaining 13,000 acres in the Tahoe Basin, referred to as “local responsibility area,” are under the protection of local governmental fire agencies (a municipal fire department or fire protection district).
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While local fire agencies maintain wildland fire suppression engines and have personnel trained to suppress wildland fires, wildland firefighting is not the primary mission. We work with our forestry firefighting agency, the Forest Service, to combat wildfires.
Wildfires represent extraordinary events, while local fire protection agencies are staffed for typical incidents including residential fires, emergency medical calls and small vegetation fires. Local agencies are not structured or staffed to engage an event like the Angora fire without mutual aid from other fire agencies. Within the basin, local fire agencies maintain a regional mutual-aid agreement managed through the Lake Tahoe Regional Fire Chiefs Association, and we participate within the California and/or Nevada mutual-aid programs.
During the California-Nevada Tahoe Basin Fire Commission process, the chiefs association drafted a letter to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Referred to as the “Nine Points Letter,” it illuminated what the chiefs believe should occur in regulatory partnership for successful implementation, application and management of wildfire prevention programs within the basin. After significant discussion, it appears agreement has been reached on these key points.
To prepare for the coming wildfire season, the seven basin fire agencies have been actively engaged in fire fuel-reduction efforts, defensible-space education, tree marking and other programs to strengthen prevention and reduce the wildfire threat basinwide.
These efforts have been funded locally or through grants from programs such as California’s Proposition 40 or through southern Nevada land sales. Likewise, the Forest Service – under the collaborative 10-year, multijurisdictional, fuel-reduction and wildfire-prevention strategy – has been working to reduce forest fuels adjacent communities in the Wildland Urban Interface.
This strategy is intended to reduce the threat of fire spreading from populated areas around Lake Tahoe to the forest and likewise, from the forest into populated communities. To view the 10-year fuel reduction plan, go to http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/ltbmu/fire.
To ensure defensible-space regulations are applied and enforced consistently around the Tahoe Basin, local fire agencies have adopted California’s Public Resource Code 4291. The code defines what constitutes defensible space, and the language within this code has been, or soon will be, adopted as local ordinance language by Nevada fire agencies.
To ensure local fire agencies are consistent in the public message, the Living With Fire Program has been adopted and adapted for use in the Tahoe Basin. The program can be viewed at http://livingwithfire.info/tahoe.
Your local fire agencies are working hard and reaching out to discuss defensible-space regulations and the work that needs to be done. We ask that you work collectively with us to ensure we all remain fire-safe.
– Lorenzo M. Gigliotti is the South Lake Tahoe fire chief.
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