Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tahoe Fire

The difficulty in creating a defensible space around private homes and the forest management practice over the last few decades is probably largely to blame for the severity of this fire, as later investigations will very possibly determine.

Failure to clear brush aided fire, officials say
By Mary Lynne Vellinga and Matt Weiser - Bee Staff Writers
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The failure of property owners to clear small trees and brush from around their houses contributed greatly to the devastation of this week's fire south of Lake Tahoe, according to fire experts touring the burned areas.

Houses sitting on cleared spaces with irrigated plants, fire-resistant roofs, metal fences and other fire-safe features were spared while their neighbors' homes burned.

"A lot of homeowner inaction went into creating this urban fire," said John Pickett, Tahoe Region Chapter Coordinator for the Nevada Fire Safe Council, as he drove through burned neighborhoods Tuesday.

On Cone Road, a house with gravel spread around the foundation, cleared brush and a metal fence survived unscathed while the one across the street was burned to the foundation.

And on Boulder Mountain Drive, a house with a stone patio swept free of pine needles and sprinklers placed on the roof was still standing. All of its neighbors were gone.

"If you look at how many small flammable sticks there were throughout here, you can tell they weren't dealing with their defensible space; there's tons of ground fuel," said Stewart McMorrow, forest fuels manager for the North Tahoe Fire Protection District.

Julie Regan, spokeswoman for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, said the majority of the 1,300 properties in the area affected by the fire did not have "defensible space," a cleared area around the home.

Not all of these had homes built on them, and not all were in the direct path of the flames. In all, 275 structures had burned as of Tuesday afternoon, 200 of them houses, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

"It's obvious we need to do more to educate the community," Regan said.

The condition of national forest land adjacent to the neighborhoods played a role, too. Streets next to land thinned of underbrush and small trees by the U.S. Forest Service fared better than those next to more overgrown areas, Pickett said.