One year later: Will we let the memory fade?
One year ago, we as a community faced a horror – a raging wildfire that quickly moved through the forest, our neighborhoods and our homes.
The wildfire burned more than 3,100 acres and destroyed the homes of more than 250 families.
Immediately after the fire, our community experienced the stark, post-fire devastation – the smell of it, the vision of our neighbor’s homes turned to blackened rubble.
The fire prompted unprecedented changes in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
Long-imposed regulations that limited our ability to protect our property from fire were eased. Homeowners created defensible space around their homes. The notorious red-tape and permitting imposed by government entities – particularly the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency – was dramatically reduced.
Perhaps more than anything, however, fire prevention became a priority for government and community leaders as it never had been before.
No longer was protecting property from fire an option – our culture changed to make it a must.
As we recently marked the one-year anniversary of the Angora Fire and the devastation it left behind, will we embrace lasting change to better protect our community from fire or will we let the memory of the devastation fade?
The aftermath of the Angora Fire will be one of the topics of discussion at the annual Tahoe Summit on Aug. 16, which will be hosted by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Before the fire, many lived as if we wouldn’t experience a major catastrophic fire in the Tahoe Basin.
As any area resident knows, much of the forestland around Lake Tahoe is dangerously overgrown, densely packed with too many trees, many dead or dying. Even before the Angora Fire, you could see entire hillsides with large brown patches from past fires and insect infestation. There was a persistent fire danger, yet due to stringent regulations there was only so much Tahoe homeowners could do about it.
The post-fire changes have helped reduce the danger, but those new policies must remain in place and, in some cases, we must dramatically expand our efforts.
For instance, 85 percent of land in the Tahoe Basin is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service.
It would be nice to think that if homeowners took care of their land that we could prevent fire from damaging our homes. The reality is that preventing a catastrophic wildfire begins with preventing catastrophic wildfires in our neighboring forests.
The Forest Service’s current effort to develop a 20-year plan for the Tahoe Basin must move beyond just creating fuel breaks to incorporate management of the whole forest around the basin. This also includes regular care of our forests – not a mentality that one year can take care of the problem.
We know from experience that the federal government will not provide the funds necessary to do the job. Even after the Angora Fire, the funds were insufficient to do all that could have been done.
As a result, we have to look to our own resourcefulness and find ways to improve forest health without expecting a huge federal handout. The private sector stands ready to help the Forest Service in this task and a partnership is critical to our forest health and wildfire prevention.
We can also ensure that fire protection never gets neglected.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s current measurements for progress in our area include monitoring many important things – air quality, water quality, wildlife, vegetation, soil, noise, recreation, fish population, scenic beauty.
What’s missing? Monitoring progress in reducing the wildfire threat.
That must be added.
While the memory and lessons of the Angora Fire remain fresh, it’s critical that we use this time to make permanent changes to reduce the chance of a catastrophic wildfire that would do even more damage than the Angora Fire.
Tahoe itself and the Tahoe experience – from clear water, ample recreation and stunning views to abundant wildlife, clean air and more – demands it. The time to act is now.
Jan Brisco is the executive director of the Tahoe Lakefront Owners Association.
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