Tahoe firefighters spend more time in basin this summer
July 31, 2009
Last year at this time, Northern California was on fire, something Tahoe residents could attest to with smoke hanging thick on a daily basis.
A June 21, 2008, round of lightning strikes from the Pacific Coast to the Sierra Nevada foothills left hundreds of fires burning – in some cases for more than a month. Add to that fires that sparked during an unusually dry summer, and 2008 made for a busy fire season.
Local fire agencies sent out strike teams and hand crews all over the state to assist in dousing the fires and to keep homes safe.
The story this summer is different so far. Due to a wet spring across Northern California and Northern Nevada, out-of-area responses are down across the board. The only major local incidents occurred earlier in July, north of Reno, and aside from some lightning-strike fires in the region, crews haven’t seen the demand for service they saw last year.
“The slower the better,” said Chief Jeff Michael of the Lake Valley Fire Protection District. “Right now we’ve had a tremendous amount of rain, and the only real fires we’ve been on were that pair up by Reno. Last year at this time we had an engine that didn’t come home for a month.”
The same goes for the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District in Incline Village, where Chief Mike Brown’s crews spent most of early to mid-summer on fires as far away as Shasta and Trinity counties in California.
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“This year we’re definitely behind on off-site responses,” Brown said, though the NLTFPD dispatched three hand crews to a fire in Eastern Nevada late last week.
The NLTFPD’s North Shore counterpart – the North Tahoe Fire Protection District in Tahoe City – is also down on out-of area responses, as is South Shore’s Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District.
It’s obviously good news, say the chiefs, that fires are down in the region.
“The other benefit is that the crews are here doing fuels reduction work instead of being out chasing down lightning strikes,” said Chief Duane Whitelaw of the North Tahoe Fire Protection District. “It’s pretty good news all around.”
For North Shore chiefs Brown and Whitelaw, it’s especially good news, as the two share fuels crews and have been able to get ahead on valuable fuels reduction work this summer since they aren’t sending crews out.
“We’re totally where we predicted we’d be if not a little bit ahead,” Brown said. “We’ve been able to get more work done on fuels reduction.”
NLTFPD plans to get about 500 acres of fuels work completed on the North Shore this summer. “We actually might finish up ahead of schedule and get a start on some of our work for next year,” Brown said.
On the South Shore, Tahoe Douglas Fire Marshal Mark Novak said that while out-of-area responses are down, fuels work remains on par with last year’s reductions.
“We have a good amount of mechanical fuels treatments, so it doesn’t really make a difference one way or another if we go to out of area fires because they get the work done either way,” Novak said.
Likewise, Brown said the lack of out-of-area responses hasn’t affected homefront operations considerably.