South Tahoe fire plan could run $5.2 million |

South Tahoe fire plan could run $5.2 million

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune file / The Gondola fire in July 2002 was a close call for dozens of homeowners on Kingsbury Grade who were evacuated.

It will soon be time to get out that shovel for work other than snow removal. Reducing the fire danger within the city limits in the next decade or so won’t be cheap but necessary – South Lake Tahoe fire officials estimate a $5.2 million price tag.

The figure represents about an eighth of the cost to clear the hazards in Lake Tahoe Basin, but the Forest Service has pinpointed the city’s 11,531 acres – 18 square miles – as having the population base needing half of the work done, according to a city-contracted report developed by Citygate Associates in Folsom. The $30,000 report serves as a cooperative plan between the Fire Safe Council and city.

That work in the future will range from implementing a citywide plan for all structures to create defensible space to outlawing wood shake roofs. That’s about half of the roofs in the city’s 7,528 urban lots – over 1,882 acres.

The plan is part of the federal Healthy Forest Act, which is intended to pick up most of the tab. But given the political climate in Washington, D.C., that money could be in jeopardy.

“There could be some cost to the homeowner, whether it’s in cash or labor,” city Capt. Doug Holcomb said.

Jennifer Arrowsmith of the Fire Safe Council agreed. She thinks the chances of the agencies getting all the money is “slim.”

The concern the basin may someday have a catastrophic fire the likes of San Diego County’s in 2003 or the Oakland Hill’s in 1991 has spread to the agendas of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency – which last June adopted a resolution to support the community wildfire protection planning effort.

City Fire Chief Lorenzo Gigliotti agreed Thursday that property owners may find a parallel between conducting TRPA’s best management practices and creating defensible space – which could be envisioned as a homeowner’s moat protecting the castle. It ranges between 30 to 100 feet depending on the site and terrain.

TRPA requires BMPs among commercial and residential property owners be signed off by 2006 in the city. El Dorado and Douglas county residents have another two years. The South Shore’s local government’s public lands would cost $520,000 to treat.

“The city has its own equipment,” the chief said. His department’s 41-member crew at three stations respond to nearly 3,000 calls for service per year.

The fire plan has identified a number of methods agencies such as the Forest Service and California State Parks department use to reduce the hazards. They range from prescribed burning to chipping. The wood-chip remnants can consequently be used as a ground-floor layer for BMPs.

Some neighborhoods have been seen as having more of a fire hazard than others. Out of 17 community pockets identified, the high-priority list mentioned in the report includes: Heavenly Valley, Pioneer Village, Tahoe Meadows, Gardner Mountain, Highland Woods and State streets. For moderate priority, there’s Glenwood, Sierra Tract, Al Tahoe, Barton area and the South “Y.” Neighborhoods seen as less of a priority are Tahoe Island, Bijou, Ski Run, Lakeside Park, Heavenly Village and Tahoe Keys.

Still, the latter neighborhood could see embers flying over it during what’s considered a catastrophic fire, Citygate fire consultant Ronny Coleman had told South Lake Tahoe’s City Council.

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