Lake Tahoe Fire- Angora Fire

Tahoe fireMore than 2,500 acres have been burned along with over 170 homes in the worst fire the Tahoe Basin has seen in recorded history. The fire began just west of Meyers in Angora Lakes on Sunday at around 2pm. By 5pm Sunday, a massive plume of smoke towering more than 1000′ was clearly visible against the crisp, blue sky. Winds topped 50 mph through the evening, sending embers “hop-scotching” through the century-old growth, sparking fires between Angora and the “Y”, dangerously close to the urban center in South Lake Tahoe.

Officials and residents, alike, anticipated this fire season would be a dangerous one, and such a massive fire so early in the season has proved this fear a reality. The annual May 1 snow survey recorded only 29% of the normal snowpack, the lowest since 1988, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The dry conditions coupled with dense forest growth in the Tahoe Basin provide a highly-flammable fuel source, that need only be ignited by a spark to spread into a raging inferno in minutes. There is little homeowners can do in a fire of this magnitude, when treetops are being ignited and the fire is spreading right above them. The sad truth is that we have allowed regulators to run amuck, inhibiting what firefighters and foresters have known to be a disastrous episode, such as the Angora fire, waiting to happen.

TRPA’s website states “TRPA has been working to attack the threat of catastrophic wildfire in the Tahoe Basin for more than 10 years. beginning in 2002, the Agency also entered into agreements with fire protection agencies to streamline the permitting of defensible space work on private properties.” They go on to say they have “never prohibited tree removal”, just requiring permitting. These statements are not true. TRPA will impose enormous fines if you cut a tree down on your own property, and it is very difficult to get a permit to cut.

First of all, any agreements TRPA made beginning in 2002, only 5 years ago, were drawn out tooth and nail. TRPA DOES regulated tree removal, and does outright prohibit removal of most trees around existing structures. TRPA encourages the use of pine needles used as erosion control around homes, and requires many BMP’s that fly in the face of fire protection. The basis of this backwards regulatory policy is to protect the clarity and water quality of Lake Tahoe. Now that nearly 4 square miles of forest have been burned along a major tributary to Lake Tahoe, massive amounts of deforested land will now be susceptible to erosion into the crystal blue waters of Lake Tahoe. If TRPA had not inhibited the efforts of fire officials and forestry regulators for over a decade, the good practices of reducing the undergrowth and thinning dense forested land would have lessened the current forest fire threat we face today. Homeowners would have been able to cut trees around their homes and allowed to protect their life’s investment, not to mention their own lives. Now, we are facing a huge threat to water clarity as this flume of carbon and charred vegetation will erode into the lake in the next significant rain event.

TRPA is a widespread source of frustration not only among homeowners, but for those who come to Tahoe to enjoy boating and recreating around the lake. By outright prohibiting breakwaters, they have allowed Tahoe’s notoriously windy and rough conditions to cause turmoil in launching areas such as Incline Village’s Ski Beach. A breakwater would provide safe harbor for boaters caught out in conditions which typically arise quickly, and prevent the sinking of many boats each year on their moorings, potentially releasing gasoline and oil into our beautiful lake waters. This is just one example of how TRPA wastes funds creating frivolous regulatory policies, and backing them up with outrageous fees to lawyers and policymakers, rather than working on practical solutions to foster the protection of Lake Tahoe, and the protection and enjoyment of the lake by homeowners and visitors, alike.

I hope the response to this disasterous fire is a huge outcry of public support for “smart” environmental policies, that allow homeowners to regulate their land, cut trees to prevent uncontrolled spreading of forest fires, foster green growth in their backyards instead of the dry tinder TRPA would have us amass in the form of pine needles. Massive amounts of funding is wasted by TRPA fighting homeowners who have tried to implement their own best management practices, and it is a sorry waste of money, a huge loss for both the quality of the lake and quality of life at Lake Tahoe. Changes need to be made, and the TRPA policies need to be revisited.

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3 responses

  1. As long as humans put themselves above the environment, as if the wildland urban interface is our playground where we can live in our picture postcard dream home (with fire insurance), then “we” are the invasive species. When we declared war on fire a hundred years ago and labeled (for the records) fire “evil,” we lost touch with our “purpose” as human beings. As a wildland firefighter ceritified in many areas in wildland fire operations as a “single resource,” it is clear to me that we humans are out of touch with why we are here on this planet. We invade other countries out of selfishness and greed. We invade the forests out of selfishness and greed. We invade other human and animal “spaces” out of selfishness and greed. Like the fuels that have built up in our forests because of prolonged fire suppression, the same insatiable human appetite for more and more, with disregard for the effects, has reached the point of an inevitable catastrophic (economical, social & environmental) collapse.

    We are out of touch with who we are as a cuture. We are out of touch with what we are and why we are. We are more concerned with buying more useless material items while staying in debt, rather than taking responsibility for the well being of everything around us. Those who choose to live in a wildland urban interface to satisfy personal motives need to snap out of DENIAL (a contageous dis-ease that is running rampant throughout this culture) and learn to become “Stewards of the Land.”

    What is your relationship with the Land? What did the land look like before fire suppression became the policy of a corrupt government owned by greedy corporations? What did the land look like before European settlers “invaded” this country?

    Fire was once a natural part of our landscape. Low intensity fire helped maintain balance and order in the forests and kept forests “healthy and biodiverse.” (Many Native Americans understood this principle and, prior to the arrival of European settlers, practiced “prescribed burning” methods that supported the health of themselves AND the health of the forests and animals.) However, that knowledge was lost when the European settlers came to understand “timber” as a valuable commodity and perceived fire as “evil” and actually declared war on it. (Good old Smokey the Bear became the perfect propoganda prop to further their cause.) Unfortunately, without low intensity fire to keep forests healthy and diverse, we now have a catastrohpic problem on our hands. The amount of acummulated “bio mass” needed to be removed from our forests, to help nature recover somewhat, is MASSIVE! Like the Karma that will come to all Americans for, directly or indirectly, invading and destroying other peoples cultures, a similar Karma is now at our doorstep.

    You want fire insurance? Look inside yourself. Learn to connect to your true nature and how that supports and nourishes your environment…the land your home is on. Each and everyone of us has a purpose on this planet, unrelated to the fashionable addictions most Americans have to any and everything that keeps them constantly preoccupied with being busy doing absolutely nothing worthwhile.

    We each need to realign ourselves with our purpose and mission in life; not to serve ourself (always first), but to serve the greater good of all living creatures. Time is growing short on all fronts. Our forests need to be intelligently and carefully “thinned” (leaving all old growth) with mimimum impact on the sensitive ecosystem. Low intensity fire must follow. Therapy for the forests will be therapy for ourselves. They go hand and hand, limb and limb. (Channel the billions of dollars allocated to an illegal war, by a corrupted administration, towards hiring a few million “poor” people to recover our forests. It’s a “win-win” situation.)

    Time to make a stand for something good, anything. Either this makes sense or it doesn’t. The lines are being drawn. Whether you are rich or poor, it does not matter. What does matter is what side you choose to align yourself with?

    A fully functional and dedicated “Steward of the Land,” steeped in principles gleaned from Nature (and not the corrupted corporations), is the only true “fire insurance” there is. Our ability to positively Steward the Land is the “fire insurance” policy that the old growth forest has always expected from us, as a coherent human race. The policy expired over the last hundred years. Time to renew it for the sake of the forest and ourselves?

    Jeffrey Learned

  2. You are idiots. Why do you think Tahoe is still a beautiful place? Should we have allowed unrestricted development and habitat destruction so people can do whatever they want? Living up here takes a certian partnership with the environment, an obligation to limit one’s impact. TRPA is being used as a scapegoat. They have a very difficult role to play. Think about what it takes to balance all the needs in the basin without a revolt from the masses.

    Jack,
    Tahoe Keys

  3. Point taken, Jack. I do agree that the intentions TRPA was founded on were sound, and that the restrictions in development and preservation of land in National forest around Tahoe have been critical to maintaining this unique and beautiful environment at the lake. I do feel that the administration and recent battles TRPA has chosen to taken are not in the best interest of residents or the Lake.

    Too much time has been spent squabbling with homeowners about the reflectivity of their windows, and requiring certain features that are cost prohibitive to many homeowners, who in turn, have decided to put off doing BMP’s. Instead of working with homeowners and helping facilitate beneficial BMP’s, TRPA has relied on litigation to wage their battles.

    I worked for several years at a Lakes Association in Maine, conducting phosphorus loading models on lakes to determine “hot spots” for potential nutrient influx into the lakes. This proofed to be a valuable tool in then going to homeowners with rutted out camp roads and clear-cut areas on the shore, and working to educate them on the impact that eroding soils have in fueling algae growth in the lake. Compliance with these BMP’s was voluntary, but people were very receptive to making improvements and taking responsibility for their lakefront or tributaries to the lakes.

    I feel TRPA has alienated the general public, and needs to realign with homeowners providing education and assistance to make common sense improvements to their land that will help stabilize soil but allow for fire prevention. If people understand the cause and effect behind certain practices, it will encourage them to be stewards of their own land and the lake. We need an agency that is people-friendly, and in turn, people will comply and we all win.

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