South Shore fire agencies work on wildfire protection plan |

South Shore fire agencies work on wildfire protection plan

Isaac Brambila

Fire protection leaders gathered June 12 to discuss and continue shaping a developing Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

The meeting was led by Martin Goldberg of the Lake Valley Fire Protection District and attended by South Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Jeff Meston and Chris Anthony of CAL FIRE. The three discussed different ideas and opinions and provided input for the plan.

In their conversation, the fire leaders discussed and assessed wildfire threat and response capability, community assets and resources, residential structures and assets, ownership and stakeholders, plans and regulations, resources and strategies, and outreach and partnerships. The three agencies, particularly Jeff Meston, expressed that firefighters are committed to mitigating problems the best they can with the resources at hand, but also stressed that more resources are needed to improve services. Meston said the agencies have to work within what the taxpayers are willing to approve, but that they also need to understand what services they can afford with the money that is being spent. It is worth noting that the information shared was part of a discussion and not a finalized plan.

Regarding wildfire threat and response capability, the fire protection system rated itself as “medium” in a five-point scale ranging from “very low” to “very high.” The initial rating was “high,” but after some discussion the three leaders brought the assessment down to medium.

The rating explained that capability is in fair shape, but that fire agencies are aware of some significant improvements that are necessary before the next wildfire event. Those would include addressing at least three of the following topics: increasing the level of wildland urban interface (WUI) response training, meeting additional equipment needs, improving knowledge of incident command system (ICS), implementing additional mutual aid agreements, increasing support for cross-training of local crews, and/or improving relationships between fire departments and local cooperators.

“The local fire agencies operate with minimum staffing. A Shift Commander assigned to a separate command vehicle fills the SLTFD Battalion Chief classification. Local fire agencies also provide a transport ambulance service so fire resources are diverted to medical emergencies, call volume is high with over 70 percent of the calls for paramedic ambulances. Fire engines are staffed with two personnel each,” the agencies added.

For non-residential community assets and resources, the rating was set as high. The evaluation stated that risks to most of the area’s intangible assets at risk have been identified and that most of those will be addressed through current or future actions and plans as time and resources allow. The assets were identified as the area’s natural setting, the tourist economy, air quality, and forest vegetation and wildlife habitat. It also included businesses, communications towers, highways and city buildings.

For residential assets, the initial assessment points out that roughly half of homes in the South Shore have reasonable vegetation management in place. About 75 percent of houses have fire-resistant roofs and between 24 and 49 percent of houses have hardened structural features that address home vulnerabilities such as decks and attachments.

The rating for residential structures and assets was set at medium. Somewhere around 50 percent of our at-risk residences, or less, have some level of mitigation in place, meaning that less than half of residential WUI areas are somewhat or very prepared for the next wildfire.

The comments also highlighted a diverse geographic area, and spoke about a discrepancy between fire maintenance in full-time residents compared with part time residents and vacation home rentals.

The engagement of property owners, land managers and stakeholders was set at high, with the report explaining that most property owners are engaged, they understand their risk, and mitigation is occurring. These include all public and private property owners or land managers (other than homeowners) contributing to the community’s wildfire risk within 5 miles who are currently and actively engaged in wildfire mitigation activities.

Under plans and regulations, the fire leaders rated themselves and the community at high, with the report stating that wildfire is addressed in most, but not all, of the community’s emergency, wildfire, and land use plans. The fire agencies are generally satisfied with the use and enforcement of regulations, but could benefit from a little improvement in certain plans and/or regulations that are not critical, the report stated.

For wildfire mitigation risk reduction programs the rating was also high. The community effectively uses a number and variety of programs that engage multiple audiences to take part in reducing wildfire risk and address most scales, the report states.

Resources for fire agencies were rated as medium, as programs have part-time or limited personnel, with somewhat reliable funding streams. The department leaders, especially locally, stated they need more staff and/or funding sources to support current and future mitigation activities.

Public outreach and input was also rated medium. “We seem to have an engaged public but we aren’t certain how many people really understand the risk,” the report read. It also stated the agencies could be doing more to engage with the public, including all types of populations.

“The public was somewhat engaged in the CWPP planning process and its ongoing implementation; our communications are not used to the highest degree they could be during disaster phases,” the comments read.

Regarding partnerships, the rating was very high.

“We engage all types of partners at all levels, and have strong connections and benefit from a high level of trust during the planning process,” the report stated.

A finalized plan is expected in late July.

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