Fire Adapted Communities Emerge in Tahoe

Evan Osgood, the Fire Adapted Communities Program Coordinator with the Tahoe Resource Conservation District, provided this great article  – The Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities (Tahoe Network) continues to educate and empower Tahoe residents in its second year of operation. The omnipresence of wildfire in California and Nevada has led to a general awareness of wildfire risk, but knowledge of fire behavior is less widespread. Helping people understand embers – how they ignite materials which can lead to home destruction, and how to prevent such events, is a priority for the program.

Embers are the greatest catalyst to home ignition during wildfire. They can be lofted into the sky and travel miles from the front of a fire, igniting the plants, debris, and trees they land on. These fuel sources can spread fire to homes if not managed properly. Managing the defensible space on properties out to 100 feet is one way to reduce your risk from embers. Because many properties in Tahoe don’t typically extend 100 feet out from a house, talking to your neighbors about defensible space is imperative. The Tahoe Network seeks to connect neighbors and bring defensible space to the community level, creating neighborhood-wide defensible space and wildfire preparedness.

“Even with the best efforts of fire resources, numerous homes are lost within the wildland urban interface due to catastrophic wildfire,” said Michael Schwartz, North Tahoe Fire Protection District Fire Chief. “Having defensible space should be a priority for homeowners and renters for several reasons. Defensible space not only keeps your home safe from wildfire, but also your neighbor’s home safe.  Additionally, defensible space is significant for the protection of firefighters defending your home.”

Involved Tahoe residents are a key component to the success of the Tahoe Network. All residents of the Lake Tahoe Basin are encouraged to step up, become leaders, and help prepare their neighborhoods for wildfire. Neighborhood leaders work with community coordinators and fire district personnel, sharing information with neighbors about ember vulnerabilities and defensible space, hosting workshops, and celebrating the work being done. Empowering Tahoe residents to stand with confidence in the face of wildland fire is one of the fundamental outcomes of the program.

The Tahoe Network has a myriad of landscaping resources to help you incorporate defensible space into your property, as well as vetted lists of contractors who can do the work. Additionally, local fire protection districts provide free defensible space evaluations and chipping services. Please contact your local fire protection district or our community coordinator for more information.

The Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities program is a member of the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team, which aims to raise wildfire awareness and empower residents to take action to reduce their wildfire risk. For more information on Fire Adapted Communities and how you can help protect your home and community from wildfire, please contact our community coordinator at [email protected] or 530-543-1501 ext. 114.

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Lake Tahoe Basin Fall Prescribed Fire Program to Begin

The Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team (TFFT), which includes local, state and federal fire and land management agencies in the Lake Tahoe Basin, will begin their fall prescribed fire program in early October, weather permitting.

“The forests in the Lake Tahoe Basin and surrounding areas are dependent on frequent low-intensity fires that removes excess vegetation and helps keep our forests healthy,” said Acting Fire Management Officer, John Washington, with the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.  “Prescribed fire is an important tool used by fire and land managers that mimics these low-intensity, natural fires and helps lessen the chance of devastating wildland fires, which increases the safety of our communities.”

Each prescribed fire operation follows a specialized prescribed fire burn plan, which considers temperature, humidity, wind, moisture of the vegetation, and conditions for the dispersal of smoke.  This information is used to decide when and where to burn.

Smoke from prescribed fire operations is normal and may continue for several days after an ignition depending on the project size and environmental conditions.  Prescribed fire smoke is generally less intense and of much shorter duration than smoke produced by wildland fires.

Agencies coordinate closely with local county and state air pollution control districts and monitor weather conditions carefully prior to prescribed fire ignitions.  They wait for favorable conditions that will carry smoke up and out of the Basin.  Crews also conduct test burns before igniting a larger area, to verify how effectively materials are consumed and how smoke will travel.

Before prescribed fire operations are conducted, agencies post road signs around areas affected by prescribed fire, send email notifications and update the local fire information line at 530-543-2816.  The TFFT gives as much advance notice as possible before burning, but some operations may be conducted on short notice due to the small window of opportunity for conducting these operations.

Once prescribed fire operations begin, the TFFT Public Information Team sends out regular notices, which include a map with project locations and details, and can be found at www.tahoefft.org.  To receive prescribed fire notifications, send an email to [email protected].

Keep in mind that residential burning on private property in the Tahoe Basin is still suspended.  For information about private land fire restrictions in California, which are regulated by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE), visit http://www.calfire.ca.gov.  For information about private land fire restrictions in Nevada, which are regulated by North Lake Tahoe and Tahoe Douglas fire protection districts, visit http://www.tahoefire.org/ or http://www.nltfpd.net/.

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Fire Fest returns to Stateline September 30

LAKE TAHOE, Calif./Nev. – Fire Fest 2017 will be held on Saturday, September 30, 2017, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. outside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe.  Admission is free and the event is a great opportunity for families to have fun while learning about safety and conservation.

Helicopters will be the stars this year, as they land just outside the venue.  What an incredible opportunity to get a close-up look at these amazing machines!  Crews will be on hand to answer questions and explain how they help us when we need them most.

Activities include fire engines and other big trucks on display, a Burn House Sprinkler demonstration, SLTPD K-9/SWAT Team demonstration, vehicle extrication, home safety ideas, free hand out material and lots of special attractions for kids, such as water fights, face painting, fire extinguisher demonstration, campfire safety and a special appearance by Smokey Bear and other friends.  By visiting different booths, kids can earn a ticket for a drawing to have firefighters come to their school for a pizza party!

Sponsored by the Lake Tahoe Kiwanis Club, this year Fire Fest is celebrating 23 years as our annual event hosted by our local fire agencies, including CAL FIRE, Fallen Leaf Lake CSD Fire Department, Lake Valley Fire District, South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue, Tahoe Douglas Fire District and the U.S. Forest Service.  This event highlights all of our safety agencies and creates a day that celebrates fire and life safety for children and families.

BELFOR, Liberty Utilities, SERVPRO, South Tahoe Public Utility District, South Tahoe Refuse and Recycling, Southwest Gas and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency have added home safety and energy and water conservation to this broad ranging community event with interests for everyone.  Lake Tahoe Fire Academy cadets and the California Conservation Corp volunteers will assist throughout the event.  Food and beverages will be available for purchase and are masterfully barbequed by the Kiwanis Club, along with other snacks at family-friendly prices.

Fire Fest began as a way to recognize National Fire Prevention Week, which was initially established in remembrance of the great Chicago fire of 1891, and to keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention.

In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation, and since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the second Sunday in October.  This year, Fire Prevention Week runs from October 8-14.  Fire Prevention Week is the longest running public health and safety observance on record, according to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Library Information Center.  Learn more about Fire Prevention Week at http://www.nfpa.org/. 

For more information about this event, contact:  Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District, Eric Guevin 775-815-0972

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Fire Danger Rating System and Red Flag Warning – Differences and Criteria

Thank you to CAL FIRE for providing this important information on behalf of the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team:

As we drive through the State and National Forests we have all seen the Smokey Bear Fire Danger Rating Signs.  What do those signs mean and what are the criteria for low, moderate, high, very high and extreme ratings?

What is the National Fire Danger Rating System?

The National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) is a system allowing fire managers to estimate today’s or tomorrow’s fire danger for a given area.  The system combines the effects of existing and expected states of selected fire danger factors into one or more qualitative or numeric indices reflecting the area’s fire protection needs.  It links an organization’s readiness level (or pre-planned fire suppression actions) to the potential fire problems of the day.

Knowledge of these levels can guide forest visitors to make decisions regarding whether or not to have a campfire or ride their OHV in a grassy area.  Homeowners may choose to postpone burning a debris pile if they are aware of the fire danger level for that day.  Contractors working in the forest may consider extra precautions when using equipment which might produce sparks.  In some cases, the National Forest may even restrict certain activities based on the fire danger levels.

  • What fire danger factors are used to get the Fire Danger Rating?
  • The key inputs into the NFDRS model are: fuels, weather, topography and risks.
  • How is fire danger different than fire behavior predictions?

Fire danger is a broad scale assessment while fire behavior is site specific.  In other words, fire danger ratings describe conditions reflecting the potential, over a large area, for a fire to ignite, spread and require suppression action.  Fire behavior deals with an existing fire in a given time and space, describing the movement, intensity and indicators of rapid combustion of an ongoing fire.

What do you mean by “Adjective Rating”?

The “Adjective Ratings” are a public information description of the relative severity of the current fire danger situation in a general area.  Adjective Ratings are generally posted on signs as visitor enter public lands or at agency offices.  Many people associate these signs as “Smokey Bear signs”.

What are the different levels and what do they mean?

We use 5 different color-coded levels to help the public understand fire potential.  The purpose of this is for visitors to understand the current conditions and help mitigate their actions to prevent human-caused wildfires.

Fire Danger Level: Low

When the fire danger is “low” it means fuels don’t ignite easily from small embers, but a more intense heat source, such as lightning, may start fires in duff or dry rotten wood.  Fires in open, dry grasslands may burn easily a few hours after a rain, but most wood fires will spread slowly, creeping or smoldering.  Control of fires is generally easy.

Fire Danger Level: Moderate

When the fire danger is “moderate” it means fires can start from most accidental causes, but the number of fire starts is usually pretty low.  If a fire does start in an open, dry grassland, it will burn and spread quickly on windy days.  Most wood fires will spread slowly to moderately.  Average fire intensity will be moderate except in heavy concentrations of fuel, which may burn hot.  Fires are still not likely to become serious and are often easy to control.

Fire Danger Level: High

When the fire danger is “high”, fires can start easily from most causes and small fuels (such as grasses and needles) will ignite readily.  Unattended campfires and brush fires are likely to escape.  Fires will spread easily, with some areas of high-intensity burning on slopes or concentrated fuels.  Fires can become serious and difficult to control unless they are put out while they are still small.

Fire Danger Level: Very High

When the fire danger is “very high”, fires will start easily from most causes.  The fires will spread rapidly and have a quick increase in intensity, right after ignition.  Small fires can quickly become large fires and exhibit extreme fire intensity, such as long-distance spotting and fire whirls.  These fires can be difficult to control and will often become much larger and longer-lasting fires.

Fire Danger Level: Extreme

When the fire danger is “extreme”, fires of all types start quickly and burn intensely.  All fires are potentially serious and can spread very quickly with intense burning.  Small fires become big fires much faster than at the “very high” level.  Spot fires are probable, with long-distance spotting likely.  These fires are very difficult to fight and may become very dangerous and often last for several days.

Red Flag Warning/ Fire Weather Watch

A Red Flag Warning is a forecast warning issued by the United States National Weather Service to inform area firefighting and land management agencies conditions are ideal for wildland fire combustion, and rapid spread. These agencies often alter their staffing and equipment resources dramatically to accommodate the forecast risk. To the public, a Red Flag Warning means high fire danger with increased probability of a quickly spreading vegetation fire in the area within 24 hours.

The weather criteria for fire weather watches and red flag warnings usually include the daily vegetation moisture content calculations, expected afternoon high temperature, afternoon minimum relative humidity and daytime wind speed.

Outdoor burning bans may also be proclaimed by local law and fire agencies based on Red Flag Warnings.

A separate but less imminent forecast may include a Fire Weather Watch, which is issued to alert fire and land management agencies to the possibility that Red Flag conditions may exist beyond the first forecast period (12 hours). The watch is issued generally 12 to 48 hours in advance of the expected conditions, but can be issued up to 72 hours in advance if the NWS agency is reasonably confident. The term “Fire Weather Watch” is headlined in the routine forecast and issued as a product. The watch then remains in effect until it expires, is canceled, or upgraded to a Red Flag Warning.

For more information, contact:  CAL FIRE, Doug Ferro 916-677-6190 or U.S. Forest Service, Lisa Herron 530-543-2815

 

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June Marks the 10th Anniversary of the Angora Fire

Thanks to Lisa Herron, USFS-Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit on behalf of the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team for this article:

On June 24, 2007, embers from an illegal and abandoned campfire ignited the most destructive fire in the history of the Lake Tahoe Basin.  Years of fire suppression, hazardous fuels accumulation, and drought impacted basin forests, leaving them vulnerable to severe wildfire.  Fire managers and regulatory agencies across the basin learned valuable lessons from this devastating fire.  It raised critical awareness about the need to increase the pace and scale of thinning and treating forested areas in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) and to educate the public about building Fire Adapted Communities.  Unfortunately, 10 years later, there is still much work to do as illegal and abandoned campfires remain the leading cause of wildfires in the basin.

“Although the Angora Fire was emotionally and economically devastating to the Lake Tahoe community, 10 years later we have learned some valuable lessons that will help move us toward a more resilient and healthy ecosystem less vulnerable to destructive wildfires,” said U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Acting Forest Supervisor, Teresa McClung.  “Local, state, and federal agencies and partners will continue to work together to reduce wildfire risks and provide education that will support Fire Adapted Communities around the lake.”

After the Angora Fire, a bi-state commission was formed to develop recommendations aimed at reducing the risk of wildfire in the basin.  Many of the recommendations have been completed including the removal of hazardous fuels on more than 48,000 acres of forest in the basin and updates to the Lake Tahoe Basin Community Wildfire Protection Plan.  Within the fire area, approximately 1,100 acres of reforestation has taken place and approximately 2,000 feet of stream channel has been restored.  In addition, The Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team (TFFT) was formed in 2008 and was tasked with implementing the Lake Tahoe Basin Multi-jurisdictional Fuels Reduction and Wildfire Prevention Strategy.  The TFFT consists of 20 partner agencies, whose mission is to protect lives, property and the environment within the Lake Tahoe Basin from wildfire by implementing prioritized fuels reduction projects and engaging the public in becoming a Fire Adapted Community.  As a result, Lake Tahoe leads the nation as a model community in taking an all hands, all lands proactive approach to addressing our greatest ecological challenges.  To learn more about the TFFT, visit www.tahoefft.org.

The lessons learned from the Angora Fire are many, but one of the most valuable lessons is that Lake Tahoe full-time and part-time residents, visitors, private and non-profit companies and organizations, and local, state, and federal agencies must remain vigilant and work together as one community to prevent and prepare for future wildfires.  The devastating impacts of the Angora Fire on families, friends, communities, and the forest will be forever remembered, but we can strive to remain resilient and reduce the impacts of future wildfires through actions and education. Take the pledge to “Think First” about when and where campfires and/or portable charcoal barbecues are allowed, complete defensible space improvements around homes and property, develop advance evacuation plans, and support the pace and scale of fuels reduction treatments including prescribed fire across all jurisdictions.  We can all work together to “Think First and Keep Tahoe Fire Safe”.  Learn more about “Think First” at ThinkFirstTahoe.org.

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