Catastrophe just waiting to happen |

Catastrophe just waiting to happen

If a warning about wildfires could give you chills, it was the report offered by local, state and national experts at a session organized by the Tahoe National Forest on Monday.

Not mincing words, they said:

• The amount of moisture in forest fuels – dead brush and timber – is already past the “critical” level.

• The tinder-dry conditions usually reached by Aug. 1 will be here by July 1 this year.

• And if that’s not bad enough, it’s expected to be “another bad lightning season.”

So don’t kid yourselves. The catastrophic fires that ravaged Southern California last fall could easily sweep the northern Sierra – and that means us. Landowners and homeowners who do not heed the warning to clear hazardous fuels from their property now are whistling past the graveyard.

Don’t think it can happen here? But it has, even though people who have moved to Nevada County in the last 15 years may not know it. The 49er fire swept across 33,000 acres in 1988 and destroyed 165 homes from the San Juan Ridge to Beale Air Force Base. Since then, hundreds of new homes have been built in areas at risk, where wildlands meet homes.

Tony Clarabut, head of the California Department of Forestry in this area, thinks we’ll see at least one major fire around here this season – and maybe more. Residents and landowners who ignore this warning are a danger not only to themselves, but to their neighbors.

Consider this: Every year the CDF, responsible for protecting 31 million acres of forest and open space, responds to an average of 6,300 wildfires that blacken 144,000 acres.

Lightning isn’t the only trigger for fires, even though almost half of the smaller fires in the county just last week were started by lightning, according to Tim Fike, chief of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District. In fact, 90 percent of wildfires are caused by people.

That’s why we may face restrictions later this summer on campfires and agricultural burns, and people in rural areas have be careful when operating chain saws, weed trimmers and even lawn mowers, which can inadvertently spark fires that quickly get out of control.

This week, the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection reacted to the growing threat by adopting a set of emergency rules to give landowners greater latitude in clearing forested areas around their property.

We encourage everyone with wooded property to do a wildfire danger assessment and seek any assistance available in protecting themselves and their homes. The Union is developing its own plans for getting the word out in case disaster strikes and people have to be evacuated, but we fervently hope those plans will never be used.

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