Monday, June 30, 2008

The Sun Rises

Tahoe In Flames - Update

This week is the anniversary of the 2007 Angora Wildfire in Tahoe and I will be posting the series of first-hand articles I published during the Angora fire.

29 June 2007 - Angora Wildfire - South Lake Tahoe CA.

Today in Tahoe began with a beautiful and colourful sunrise. Thanks in part to all the particulates in the air that caught the early morning rays of sunshine. Probably the only side effect of the Angora wildfire that can be enjoyed. But it appears to have been a harbinger of better things to come.

As the morning grows brighter, the whomp-whomp-whomp of a helicopter passing overhead signals the resumption of the chopper parade and the beginning of today’s aerial assault. The predicted high winds for Wednesday and Thursday did not materialize giving the 2100 plus firefighters a chance to contain the Angora wildfire. Ground crews have constructed a firebreak completely encircling the burn area. Official word is the fire is now 70% contained.

There are still hot spots and even larger active blazes burning within the perimeter. The fire will not be considered 100% contained as long as there is a possibility of embers being blown past the fireline and creating another fire. Smoke still rises from the burn area. Most of the homes have completely burned out. However, like charcoal briquettes in a barbeque, the charred tree trunks and roots continue to smolder long after the flames have disappeared from sight. Timber fires can smolder above and below the surface for three or four months.

With the favourable wind conditions and the wildfire stalled within the fireline, there is good news for many of the firefighters. 600 crew members are already heading home, and if progress today continued at the same pace as the past two days, many more will be able to return home possibly cutting the crew numbers in half. The remaining firefighters will guard against embers breaching the fireline and will work inwards dousing hotspots.

If anyone was planning to spend the 4th of July in Tahoe, or visit the area during the summer, you do not need to change your plans. Tahoe is still here! The lake is still blue and beautiful, and filled with fish. The mountains await hikers and picnickers. There are 200 miles of improved bike paths and hundreds more miles of mountain bike trails. Almost all of the campgrounds are still open! There are some tightened restrictions about campfires, grills, and other things that can be igniters of another wildfire. However, those restrictions are typically in place during the summer months anyway. And last I heard, Harvey’s Lights on the Lake - the largest synchronized fireworks display west of the Mississippi - is still a go for the 4th!!!

Statistics for the morbidly curious:

  • The Angora Wildfire is 70% contained.
  • The fire has burned 3100+ acres.
  • 2175 firefighters battled the blaze, plus two dozen aerial teams .
  • No deaths !YEAH!
  • 1 notable injury - a boulder dislodged on a steep slope rolled over one firefighter breaking his arm.
  • 254 homes have burned to the ground.
  • 25 more homes are severely damaged.
  • Dozens of other homes have extensive smoke and water damage.
  • Residents are being escorted by individual household into the burn area to inspect their home or photograph the remains.
  • Most residents that were evacuated from adjacent neighborhoods that did not burn, are being allowed back into their homes.
  • Firefighting costs are currently over $10 millon.
  • Damage estimates for the Angora wildfire are running in the $200+millon range.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ashes to Ashes

Tahoe in Flames - UpdateThis week is the anniversary of the 2007 Angora Wildfire in Tahoe and I will be posting the series of first-hand articles I published during the Angora fire.

27 June 2007 - Angora Wildfire - Lake Tahoe CA.
While the Angora Wildfire still burns, today, the ashes left in the fire's wake received their viewing by the politicos and dignitaries. This was the obligatory public relations tour and photo-op, followed by the press conference. These events are good and bad. Unfortunately the catalyst that sets the grand tour and press conference in motion is too often the result of a bad event in itself such as this wil
dfire. It is good to see our elected leaders out amongst the populous. Governor Schwarzenegger, Lt Governor Garamendi, State Insurance Commissioner Poizner all from California were present. Other notable attendees included Mayor Lovell of South Lake Tahoe and Governor Gibbons from Nevada.

Smoke rises from Gardner Mountain and Tallac Village at the "Y" near downtown South Lake Tahoe - seen from the shopping center parking lot just across the street.

Highlights of course included restating the current situation, announcing the different jurisdictions' proposed response to the aftermath of the wildfire, and calls to the citizenry to rally together and continue aiding their neighbors displaced by the fire. Of note: That the Tahoe area has been declared a State Disaster Site by California making it eligible for special state and federal grants and loans to abate the destruction of both public and private interests. Gov. Gibbons pledged both personnel and financial aid to Nevada's lakeside neighbors and reported that two more evacuation and aid centers are open, one in Incline Village on the Nevada side of the lake and another 25 miles away in Nevada's capitol city of Carson City. California's State Insurance Commissioner - Poizner - made an enlightening speech warning those affected by the fire to be vigilant for perpetrators of fraud when contracting for services and repairs of their property and also in dealing with their own insurance companies.

Unfortunately, the f
irst to arise from the ashes of a stricken community is not the Phoenix, the mythical bird of hope and rebirth. Far too often the victims of natural type disasters are victimized a second time by unscrupulous fly-by-night scam artists posing as insurance investigators and contractors for demolition and repairs.

... an older woman forced to evacuate her Tahoe home on terribly short notice who was being interviewed by a TV reporter as she sat in the back seat of a friend's car. S
he clutched a small box with a seal on it. The woman explained what had happened and what she took with her, "We had no time! No warning! The sheriff's car came through blasting that we had to leave now! The fire is coming!" She continued, "There was no time to pack anything. I just grabbed what was nearby. If it wasn't for my neighbor I would not be here now." ... looking down at the box she held, saying something about ashes, her voice trailed off, smothered by the din from the traffic as others evacuating Tallac Village and Gardner Mountain streamed by ... Ashes to Ashes.

Angora Wildfire spreads to Gardner Mountain.

Favourable weather conditions Wednesday helped firefighters gain about 55% containment of the Angora Wildfire. Total containment is projected by next Wednesday July 3rd.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wildfire Jumps Containment Line

Update - Tahoe In Flames

This week is the anniversary of the 2007 Angora Wildfire in Tahoe and I will be posting the series of first-hand articles I published during the Angora fire.

26 June 2007 - Angora Lake Fire - Lake Tahoe CA.

Bad news this afternoon. The Angora Lake wildfire jumped the forward containment line the fire crews had worked hard the past day to lay down. Mid afternoon winds picked up momentum and carried large flaming embers over Gardner Mountain and across Emerald Bay Road (Hwy 89) into forested areas between town and the popular turn-of-the-century resort area of Camp Richardson. Spot fires flared up quickly in the dry timber that borders the shore of Lake Tahoe.

Concerted effort was redirected from the main blaze to squelch the new fires before they could grow into another roaring inferno. During this time the winds carried the main blaze around the sides of Gardner Mountain threatening homes in the Gardner Mountain neighborhood and Tallac Village. Both neighborhoods had to be placed under forced evacuation. Because of the possibility of the wildfire could again breach the containment line, the Tahoe Keys and Tahoe Island neighborhoods, near this afternoon’s flare up, have been placed on alert with a voluntary evacuation request. Tallac Village is in the northwest corner of the “Y”, the junction of US-50 and Hwy 89. The area around the “Y” is South Lake Tahoe’s major commercial district and downtown area.

Also this afternoon, two firefighters were trapped by the back-burn they had set earlier to help contain the main blaze. The two firefighters had to deploy their emergency survival shelters to avoid a fiery death. The two firefighters survived the ordeal thanks to the survival shelters known as shake & bakes because of the shaking action used to deploy the individual shelters and that once inside, well, you bake ... but you don’t burn! The metallic fabric fire shelters are credited with saving the lives of several hundred firefighters. Unfortunately the shelters don’t always work, July 6, 1994 fourteen firefighters died on Storm King Mountain near Glenwood Springs CO. Thankfully the shelters did perform as needed today!

Smoke rises from Angora Ridge - Backside of the smoke plume

Current Stats:

  • There are still no deaths or serious injuries related to the Angora Lake fire.
  • Area charred by the fire is 3200 acres or 5 square miles (13 sq km).
  • 800 firefighters are on the scene and the fire is about 44% contained.
  • The number of homes destroyed by the fire has climbed over 200.
  • With this afternoon’s forced evacuation of Tallac Village and Gardner Mountain, evacuees are up to 2000 and continuing to rise as residents of the Tahoe Keys choose to flee ahead of the advancing wildfire.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Still Burning

Tahoe In Flames - Update

This week is the anniversary of the 2007 Angora Wildfire in Tahoe and I will be posting the series of first-hand articles I published during the Angora fire.

26 June 2007 - Angora Fire - South Lake Tahoe, CA.

First to all my friends and connections, I am safe and doing fine, though the loft is a bit stuffy after being all closed up for most of three days.

Outside, the air has been relatively still the past day and a half, the strong winds during the weekend and the early morning darkness of Monday morning have dwindled to the lightest of breezes. The lack of wind is both a blessing and a bane. Without the winds that typically rush down the canyons from the top of the Sierras, the Tahoe Basin is filled with thick clouds of smoke. At times Monday the smoke obscured visibility to the point that the aerial assault on the wildfires had to be curtailed for a while. The enormous fire created its own micro weather pattern causing a phenomenon like the backdraft experienced in a building fire but on a slower moving and much larger scale.

Monday afternoon without a fresh breeze feeding the blaze, the suction caused by the fire's consumption of oxygen from the surrounding air drew in a reversed breeze from the lake. While this breeze does fuel the flames, it had two beneficial qualities that aid in containing the forest fire. The backdraft breeze was very cool since it come from off the frigid waters of Lake Tahoe and helps cool the fire and the area around it. A cooler fire burns slower than a hot one. The backdraft also helped to stall the fire in its burn path allowing the fire crews more time to create a firebreaks at the head of the fire and contain the fire on its flanks. The reverse breeze also helped clear the air around the wildfire enough that the helicopter bucket brigade and slurry bombers could safely resume the aerial attack.

There are a dozen helicopters and about the same number of slurry bombers spreading fire suppressant slurries and retardants on the blaze and across the front of the burn path. California's Lt. Governor John Garamendi has declared a state of emergency for the Tahoe area. Along with the aerial teams, the on-ground fire crews have swelled to 750 firefighters from several jurisdictions and other states. Tahoe is shared by California and Nevada, and Nevada's Governor Jim Gibbons has sent crews and equipment from Nevada and has pledged other assistance and aid to the state's neighbors.

Thankfully I am again reporting no serious injuries nor any deaths related to the Angora Wildfire. As of the time of writing, the fire has grown to almost 3000 acres or about 5 square miles (13 sq km). The El Dorado County Sheriff's Office is reporting the fire as 40% contained this morning. The bad news is over 1200 people have lost their homes. 180 homes are currently listed as totally destroyed by the blaze and an additional 50 residences have significant fire damage. Public utilities in the area have been destroyed or shut down. Electric and phone lines are downed. Areas with natural gas have had service shut down. Many homes do not have natural gas but instead LP gas. The exploding propane tanks have made for spectacular footage for the film crews allowed into the fire, but also have added fuel to the blaze and sent dangerous shrapnel flying through the air. Many other homes in the immediate area have extensive smoke and/or water damage. There are many seasonal/vacation residences around the Tahoe Basin that are not fully occupied year-round, and whose owners may not know yet of the damage to their properties. The Sheriff's Office is allowing a few residents of some neighborhoods where the fire has passed, to come into the area to survey the damage to their property. Local roads in and around the wildfire are closed to all traffic. US-50 is again open to traffic in both directions, Hwy 89 - Emerald Bay Road is still closed to most traffic. Several campgrounds in the southern area of the Tahoe Basin are closed at this time.

The southern area of Lake Tahoe is a peripatetic amalgamation of 40,000 people scattered amongst the towns of South Lake Tahoe (25,000) and Meyers California, Stateline Nevada, and various far-flung forest enclaves, such as Angora Lake where the wildfire is burning. In spite of a fluctuating population that includes a vast number of tenants, seasonal foreign workers, and folks just out on holiday, along with the permanent residents, Tahoe comes together quickly when anyone is in need. Call it the mountain code, small town survival, or just plain old sense of community; which ever you use, everyone makes sure that those who have been ousted from their homes are taken care of. While it will take time to relocate those who have lost their homes, the community has opened its doors to provide temporary residence to the displaced. Many of the people currently out of their own homes were evacuated as precautions and will be able to return home as soon as the last of the flames are doused. Others will need longer to repair lesser damages and abate smoke and water damage.

Tahoe is a year-round holiday and vacation destination resort area. The crush of the summer season begins annually with the 4th of July weekend, which is only a week away. A wildfire such as the Angora blaze is never welcomed, but even less so when it arrives on the doorstep of the summer tourist season. Tahoe has suffered much worse indignities over the past 163 years of non-indigenous visitors. Both from the hand of man and from Mother Nature. Tahoe will survive and even thrive from this latest assault, as will the people who call Tahoe home!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tahoe In Flames

This week is the anniversary of the 2007 Angora Wildfire in Tahoe and I will be posting the series of first-hand articles I published during the Angora fire.

South Lake Tahoe CA June 24, 2007 - A wildfire is burning out of control a couple miles southwest of South Lake Tahoe. The fire is burning along the heavily wooded ridges west of the Upper Truckee River. The fire has charred over 700 acres at last report, including 50 homes in the Angora Lake neighborhood and currently is immediately threatening 500 additional homes. Residents of several southwestern neighborhoods in South Lake Tahoe have already been evacuated and other areas are being prepared in case the fire cannot be contained. Those familiar with the Lake Tahoe area, the fire is just west of US-50 between the airport and Fallen Leaf Lake and is burning northeast towards the “Y”.

The fire was first reported around 2:30 this afternoon. Since then fire crews have lost two vehicles to the fast moving blaze. Medium strong winds of 15-20 mph are feeding the blaze and moving in a northeasterly direction towards downtown South Lake Tahoe. At this time there have been no serious injuries or deaths reported. There have a few minor injuries such as smoke inhalation and from incidents related to residents evacuating the endangered area.

The Tahoe Basin had not yet been under any Fire Restrictions this season. The last major wildfire in the Tahoe Basin was the July 03, 2002 Gondola Fire which charred upwards of a thousand acres on Kingsbury Grade. That fire began at the bottom of the Heavenly ski area across the road from Harrah’s Casino and was swept up to the top of the eastern ridge by high winds. Since 1970 only about 3000 acres of timberland have been lost to wildfires in the Tahoe Basin. Hundreds of acres are burned annually during prescribed or preventive burns set purposefully by the Forest Service to consume deadfall, dry underbrush, and pine needle build-up which wildfires would utilize as fuel in an out-of-control forest fire.

Forest fires were relatively common in Tahoe, the Sierras, and most western forests in North America before the arrival of Euro-Americans. The fires were started from lightning strikes and usually burned slowly along the forest floor, consuming dead branches, weak trees and shrubs, and leaving the large trees alive. This type of low intensity wildfires are actually good for the western forest ecosystem. Over 80 years of extreme forest fire suppression has actually done more to harm the western coniferous than it helped, other than protecting man-made structures and other human interests. Western forests of pine, spruce, and fir require heat from the natural low intensity wildfires to help free the seeds from the pine cones to regenerate the forests.

The fire is about three miles west and across the Truckee River from where I live. So far there appears to be no immediate threat to my area of the woods. My area has not received any notices from the Rangers or the Sheriff’s office that we should prepare for an evacuation. I have gathered together a few items of importance in case there should be a sudden violent shift in the fire’s direction and an emergency exit is required.

842 Wildfires Buring In Northern California

A huge system of dry thunderstorms stalled over northern California during the weekend. The storm unleashed a barrage of over 6,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes that ignited the more than 800 wildfires.

The wildfires range in size from a few dozen acres to one that has burned over 57,000 acres near Los Padres and has injured nine firefighters. Mendocino County alone has counted at least 110 separate fires burning, of which only 17 have been contained.

HotShot teams, other firefighters, along with slurry bombers and helicopter tankers are arriving from other states to assist the California crews in fighting the wildfires.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Demise of the 35-hour Work Week

France's conservative government adopted a plan today that would allow companies and employees to get around 35-hour workweek rules that critics say has restricted economic growth. Rail workers, teachers and other public servants went on strike this week and union activists marched in protests nationwide to voice opposition to the plan. (Associated Press)

Geez! wish I could get by on a just a 35 hour work-week!

My work-weeks have been in the 50-55 hour range on average and have crept up into the 70-80 hour range from time to time.

The 50 hour work-week would be much more manageable if it included that French tradition of the two-hour lunch, or better yet the "siesta" time that it common throughout the Mediterranean especially in Greece, Italy and Spain.

A year ago France implemented the beginning of their work-week reform by instigating "tax-free" overtime incentive to workers that voluntarily agreed to work over the 35 hour limit.

When I was a corporate-dog I would have settled for just getting paid for the overtime hours I worked. How much better if that overtime pay had been tax-exempt!

With the exception of the United Kingdom, Western Europe and Scandinavian workers have a work-week that is up to a third shorter than in North America. On top of their shorter hours, workers in these countries, and also the United Kingdom, enjoy from 5-8 weeks of vacation time, or holiday time as they call it. It is claimed that Paris is closed in August, as everyone has left town on holiday and is at the beach!

Sociologists have presented that a person working 60 hours per week could simply mean they are enthusiastic about their job. But, if long work-weeks become the societal norm, then these long hours are not voluntary, and represent a dearth of leisure time and possibly threaten the general public health of a nation.

How embarrassing that the world's lone remaining Super-Power is overworked, underpaid, and while having the finest healthcare one can afford to get sick! Has America lost sight of family and leisure pursuits through chasing the almighty dollar and working too long of hours?