South Shore has 500 acres to burn |

South Shore has 500 acres to burn

Andy Bourelle

Goodbye, ugly piles. Hello, beautiful forests.

Lake Tahoe residents likely have seen the piles of wood that have been built in many basin forests. It’s almost time to get rid of them.

The U.S. Forest Service – with help from some carefully applied fire – is preparing to eliminate many of them.

The Forest Service probably will start performing prescribed pile burning on about 500 acres of South Shore land next week, an action that will constitute only a portion of the agency’s fall prescribed burn plans.

“We have approximately 500 acres of pile burning on the South Shore part of El Dorado County. We obviously won’t be doing that in one day,” said Mark Johnson, fire management officer for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. “A majority of that is on the Pioneer Project, but there are some areas all over.

“It’s a lot of pile burning,” he added. “That’s because of the (vegetation) management projects we’re completing near urban areas.”

Many forests in the basin are dense. Trees compete against each other for sunlight and nutrients. Add a drought in the early 1990s and an ongoing bark beetle infestation and the end result is as many as a third of the trees in the basin are dead.

Natural fire has been largely absent from Tahoe for more than 100 years, and that has led to a buildup of fuels – branches, pine cones, needles and fallen trees – on the forest floor.

All of that together combines to create the potential for dangerous, catastrophic wildfires.

The Forest Service, with the Pioneer Project and other activities, has tried to create fuel breaks near residential areas. Prescribed underburning that the Forest Service often conducts cannot feasibly be done near homes. Therefore other treatments, such as wintertime mechanical work in the case of the Pioneer Project, are done.

“The pile burning is the final phase of fuel treatment,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t provide the same effect an underburn does. Not to say it’s bad; it’s just a different objective. It’s more difficult to do an underburn next to homes.”

The Forest Service typically administers prescribed burns in the spring and fall. Atmospheric conditions haven’t been acceptable lately, and the Forest Service is slightly behind schedule. While burns usually start the second week of October, this season the agency doesn’t plan to start until next week.

“We really need people to understand that a little bit of smoke leads to a less fire-prone situation next to residential areas,” Johnson said.

Other burns planned for around the basin:

n The only underburn this season will be 250 acres on North Shore.

n About 25 acres of pile burning is planned for three different areas of Douglas County.

n Additionally, about 725 acres of pile burning is planned for North Shore.

n On the West Shore, officials intend to complete about 30 acres of pile burning.

“All this is subject to the weather, and we may or may not get it all done,” Johnson said.


Up-to-date information on the Forest Service’s prescribed burns can be obtained by calling (530) 573-2707 or by accessing the World Wide Web at

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