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.

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