Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tahoe Fire

All the contradictions of living in the forest yet unable to do what needs to be done to protect your house from fire are inflamed today.

Prevention steps few, difficult to implement
By Matt Weiser, Chris Bowman and Carrie Peyton Dahlberg - Bee Staff Writers
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The blaze that swallowed entire neighborhoods just south of Lake Tahoe struck in one of the worst places at one of the worst times.

It rode high winds and leaped through trees and brush already drier than usual from a mild winter. When it reached densely populated streets tucked amid pines, the fire illustrated the enormous challenge of protecting Tahoe's suburbs in the wilderness.

"Home construction in the forest ... opens you up to more risk," said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Yvonne Jones. When an inferno reaches the forest crown, "humans cannot keep up with it, just literally cannot."

More than 44,000 year-round and vacation homes dotting the woods make it impossible for the Tahoe basin to get full benefit of fire-prevention strategies designed for forestlands.

Because of the homes, Forest Service officials say, they can't conduct enough controlled or "prescribed" burns to clear out heavy underbrush -- the "ladder fuel" that allows flames to climb to crowns of tall trees and explode into embers that propel the fire. Similarly, firefighters are loath to set backfires to contain a blaze at Tahoe.

In the summer, according to the Forest Service, the lake region's population swells to more than 100,000.