Organization offers residents help making homes fire-safe
Although residents in the Tahoe Basin have been lucky with wildfires for many decades, the close calls are getting closer.
Last summer’s Martis Fire approached the ridge line above Incline Village, and the Gondola Fire last month threatened South Shore homes.
While the basin’s firefighting agencies have proven able to hold the blazes back from neighborhoods, it seems inevitable that, without some help from residents in making their own homes defensible in a fire, homes could be lost in the future.
That’s where the Nevada Fire Safe Council comes in, according to Elwood Miller, executive coordinator for the nonprofit organization, who will be bringing his message to Incline Village this week when he visits.
“There was a serious concern with the growing number of burns and the frequent threat to folks who chose to live in the wildland,” Miller said. “To address these concerns, representatives from fire, emergency and law enforcement came together in the spring of 1999 to see what they could do about it.”
By the next year, the group had incorporated and began to seek grants from federal sources. The goal of the council, Miller said, is to bring local property owners together with federal, state and local agencies to prevent wildfires. The prevention efforts include projects that make homes fire-safe, that reduce an area’s flammable fuel load, and that educate the owners on what they can do.
Miller explained that to get these benefits, the property owners have to first form a chapter. The first chapter, he said, was formed in the Virginia City Highlands earlier his year. Other chapters now formed, or nearly formed, include the Holbrook Junction area of Douglas County, the Galena Forest development off Mount Rose Highway, and the Glenbrook Project in the Basin.
The Glenbrook Project will likely become a poster child for the council. Although the project has been an independent nonprofit for years, its new alliance with the council has helped it garner nearly $385,000 in federal monies for two projects.
The money, appropriated by Congress through the National Fire Plan, was approved by the Nevada Division of Forestry, which is charged with administering the federal funds.
“They will treat fuels in two areas for this Phase 1 project,” said NDF Grants/Fire Business Manager Suzanne Sturtevant.
Defensible space project to illustrate to homeowners in the Glenbrook area what it can include, and will demonstrate how it allows firefighters to save homes from wildfires. Glenbrook Project’s Charlene Meenan, who runs the project, said the council and the experts it provides are “a godsend.”
She says her groups hope to eventually ring the area with a 300-foot firebreak, patterned after that being built by the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District around Incline Village and Crystal Bay.
The complex project evolved radically over the course of a year, Meenan said. The area to be treated includes lots of dead and dying trees, as well as old growth trees, and presented a challenge. But with the help of the fire council, they were able to develop, and then fine tune a plan that was able to be funded.
The tasks ahead for the Glenbrook Project include buying equipment, arranging contracts for the work, acquiring permits, and disposing of the fuels that are gathered. Meenan said the fuels might be used for a biomass power project.
Miller said that, while these efforts benefit an entire community, they are typically spearheaded by a small group of highly motivated individuals. But he added that this core group is usually not hard to find.
“They don’t need to look too often out their windows and see the smoke to realize they really need to be proactive,” Miller said.
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