South Lake Tahoe fire agency seeks community support in prevention efforts
Fire prevention tips
• Contact Lake Valley Fire Protection District for free wood chipping pickup at 530-577-2447. (Not available in city of South Lake Tahoe).
• Create a fuel-reduction zone from 30 feet to 100 feet (or to your property line, if closer) to slow the spread of an approaching wildfire.
• Cut dry grass regularly within 100 feet of your home. Gas powered tools can start fires when fire danger is high, so work early in the morning on a cool, moist day, if possible. Rake and remove clippings.
• Use irrigated, fire-resistant plants where possible. Rock, stone, and other materials can be used to create an attractive, fire-safe landscape.
• Make decks fire safe by clearing vegetation and combustibles like lumber and firewood from underneath. Enclose underside with fire resistant building materials if possible.
• Apply 1/4-inch mesh screen to all roof and basement vent openings.
• Keep trees limbed up 10 feet from the ground or from the tops of plants below (or a third of the height of trees shorter than 30 feet), and cut back at least 10 feet from your chimney and roof. Remove all dead limbs.
• Clean all needles and leaves from the roof and rain gutters regularly during fire season.
• Maintain your landscaping by mowing, watering, weeding and removing dead needles and leaves.
• Maintain fire engine access to your home by clearing vegetation 10 feet from the sides of roads and driveways and 14 feet vertically.
• Make your address visible from the street in both directions, with four-inch (minimum) reflective numbers on a contrasting background.
More tips are available at tahoe.livingwithfire.info.
Source: Lake Valley Fire Protection District
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — Ten months ago, the Lake Valley Fire Protection District eliminated its wildland hand crew. Since then, certain services became a partnership between the district and people living within its operating borders.
Those changes have taken away resources previously available to residents living in the district’s boundary that helped to reduce potential fire hazards.
“The hand crew provided us the ability to do fuel reduction projects in the district to reduce the risk of a fire’s impact,” said Lt. Martin Goldberg, who heads up the district’s fuels and fire division.
Those tasks once included removing undergrowth and lower branches from trees in the area.
Grants previously funded crews, but once activity fell the district asked voters to approve a special property tax —Measure H — that would have provided $1 million to consistently support the effort. Though the local measure failed to pass in California back in November, Goldberg said there’s still plenty area residents can do, like creating defensible spaces around homes. Defensible space includes reducing potential fire hazards — dead branches, pine needles, dying grass and brush near structures.
Hand crews, in addition to doing chipping services, also worked to reduce fire risks. Without funding, the district laid off a 20-member crew.
Services still available in the district include free wood chipping for residents living in unincorporated areas of South Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf. A CalFire grant funds the program.
Lake Valley Fire Chief Gareth Harris said fuel reduction has its advantages, but takes initiative from residents.
“The homeowner is now incumbent to do that work,” he explained. “… People can put limbs on their curb and call the district to pick them up.”
Harris added that while the concept of defensible space varies from community to community in California and Nevada, Lake Valley Fire’s recommendation would be to keep an area clear of flammable materials up to 30 feet around the home, and to reduce landscape up to the property line.
“The idea is to make these homes passively defensive so that fuel runs out before it hits the home,” Harris said. “We just don’t have enough engines to park one in every driveway.”
One example remains burned in the fire department’s memory about necessary defensible space.
“The Angora Fire was one too many fires like that for us and we don’t want to have that again,” Harris said.
The June 2007 Angora Fire, the result of an illegal campfire near Seneca Pond, devastated an Upper Truckee Ricer Road subdivision near Meyers and Fallen Leaf Lake. It burned 3,100 acres, destroyed 242 homes, 67 commercial structures, and damaged another 35 houses over more than a week.
During the fire, there were reports of flames jumping from house to house and tree to tree.
Harris said a study conducted after the Angora Fire revealed 75 percent of homes that followed fire-adapted guidelines survived the fire.
He said the public jumping in to do its part around the district significantly reduces the risk of that happening again.
“It’s the concept of a community banding together to prevent another Angora,” Harris said.
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.