More 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.