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!

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