Our View: When it’s time to go
The sky over South Lake Tahoe resembles that of a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
The Caldor Fire burns at the edges of homes beneath South Lake Tahoe, too close for anyone. Smoke billows up and spreads, contaminating the air and clouding our lungs. Through the haze, you can see an old sun, red and damaged, shining weakly.
And then — despite all the work, the home hardening, the careful planning — the evacuations came.
The Caldor Fire weighs heavy on many hearts right now. South Lake Tahoe, about two hours away by vehicle, is closer to Nevada County than you might think. Many of us have art of the lake on our walls. We proclaim our feelings for the lake on ubiquitous bumper stickers. We visit when we can. A lucky few have homes in that area.
Now we watch and wait and hope that a community like no other, a place that draws people from across the world, resembles what it was just a few weeks ago.
Pictures and video of South Lake Tahoe have spread like, well, wildfire. A stalled line of vehicles stretching toward Zephyr Cove, while the lanes headed into town are strangely empty.
It was a scene similar to the one we saw Aug. 4, when the River Fire broke out near Colfax. We saw it again on Aug. 25 with the Bennett Fire near Grass Valley.
In the latter case evacuation orders for a portion of the Glenbrook Basin led to gridlock for the area around Brunswick Road and Highway 49. It didn’t last that long, just long enough to stymie hundreds, if not thousands, of residents and workers from escaping the area.
Someone who disobeyed the evacuation order could have waited an hour, then driven away on nearly empty streets — a pleasant surprise during rush hour.
But that’s not what an evacuation should be. Lingering like that could lead to tragedy when the next fire, or the one after that, gets out of control.
Individuals can harden their homes, but they can’t widen public roads. However, they can work with their neighbors in rural areas, perhaps even cutting a dirt road and ensuring an escape route if necessary.
We can also join, or help create, Firewise communities. These groups not only build communities built around resilience to fire, they may lead to reduced fire insurance costs.
Would more fire hydrants help? What about a return to logging, thinning the trees and removing fire fuels? That biomass plant idea that gets kicked around every now and then may not be be such a bad idea, either.
There is no easy answer to the problem of fire — that much has been clear for as long as people have lived here. But we can constantly work toward an answer by tackling different aspects of the question.
Involvement in Firewise communities, thinning the forests, hardening our own homes and preparing for evacuations are essential parts of that answer.
Our government needs to do its part as well. Its evacuation map resembles a jigsaw puzzle, with each piece identified by a near unintelligible code. It’s a great idea, and what we’ve got right now, but we need something better and more understandable that includes an outline of the fire, not just the evacuation zones.
The firefighters and first responders on the Caldor Fire — and any fire, regardless of size — deserve and have our support and thanks. They work hard for us when the fire happens, and we should work hard for them beforehand. We can leave an “evacuated” sign when we flee our homes, saving first responders time when they arrive. We can thin our own fire fuels that pose danger to our homes.
And, when the alert hits our phones, we can grab our go-bags and get in the car.
And just go.
The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com
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