By Tom Lotshaw

Creating a fire-adapted community takes a neighborhood working together. But it sure helps to have someone like Ann Grant to get things going.

“Every neighborhood needs an Ann,” said Lisa Herron, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

After learning how to defend her own home from wildfire, Ann Grant worked to help her neighbors prepare. She is now an ambassador for the Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities, sharing her experience with other neighborhoods around Tahoe. Tom Lotshaw/TRPA

Finding, training, and organizing volunteers like Ann Grant for every neighborhood at Lake Tahoe is the focus of a new Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities program being run by the Tahoe Resource Conservation District.

When Grant first moved to Skyland, Nevada from urban Orange County, California in 1990, she didn’t know much of anything about wildfires or how to live responsibly in a rural, fire-prone landscape like Tahoe. Grant and her neighbors in Skyland had much to learn, and much more to do.

The East Shore neighborhood of 245 homes had an abundance of highly-flammable ornamental juniper shrubs in people’s yards. The natural vegetation was thick and overgrown and homes had no defensible space. The neighborhood’s original building standards a half-century earlier had required people to build homes with wood-shake roofs, which are flammable and prone to ignite from falling embers from nearby fires.

“I knew nothing about forestry or wildfire and I didn’t have a concern either,” Grant said. “I had bitterbrush and manzanita covering the yard and running right up to the house and under the deck. My house was destined to burn in the next wildfire.”

Fortunately, Grant wised up before that next fire ever came. She was volunteering in a local election in the early 2000s and overheard other volunteers talking about efforts to improve wildfire preparedness. She joined the conversation and soon after volunteered with the now-defunct Nevada Fire Safe Council.

Learning about wildfire risk and steps homeowners and neighborhoods can take to reduce it, Grant quickly cleaned up her property by removing trees, branches, and brush as needed to create defensible space to help keep a wildfire from spreading to her home or from the ground up into the tree canopy.

Grant became the neighborhood leader for wildfire preparedness in Skyland, working with Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District and other public agencies to share information with her neighbors about how to reduce wildfire risk. Grant secured grant funding and organized volunteers to help Skyland homeowners clear brush and create defensible space. She worked with the sheriff’s office and fire district to organize an evacuation drill, encouraging neighbors to keep an evacuation kit ready and to sign up for emergency notifications through the county’s reverse 911 system.

Grant helped organize a group-bid with local contractors for neighbors to replace their old wood-shake roofs with fire-resistant roofing materials at a discount price. She also worked with the U.S. Forest Service to thin forests and clear brush from National Forest land adjacent to Skyland, creating a fire break for the neighborhood.

Today, all but two of the junipers are gone, and the two remaining have been trimmed and maintained to reduce their fire risk. There are only about 10 wood-shake roofs left in Skyland and about 98 percent of the residents have created defensible space for their homes. Grant continues to talk with her neighbors and all new residents in Skyland about the importance of creating and maintaining defensible space on their properties and being ready for wildfire.

“On a windy day, if several wildfires started in the Tahoe Basin, there would not be enough resources available. People need to be responsible for their property. That personal responsibility is so important because what you do on your property affects the entire community,” Grant said. “If we could just have one person in each neighborhood around the basin organizing this kind of work, the basin would be so much safer.”

That’s the focus of the new Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities program. Grant is an ambassador for the program, sharing her experience with other neighborhoods around Tahoe.

Agencies have spent two decades thinning forests and reducing hazardous fuels on Tahoe’s public lands, treating more than 70,000 acres. But residents and neighborhoods play an equally important role in reducing catastrophic wildfire risk.

Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities helps neighborhood volunteers organize and work with the local fire district and state and federal agencies to create fire adapted communities like Skyland.

Through the program, fire districts are identifying the most at-risk communities and working to increase partnership, outreach, education, and activities to help residents create defensible space, improve the ember-resistance of their homes, and prepare for Tahoe’s next wildfire.

“We’re focused on trying to make wildfire preparedness and community protection as straight forward and easy as possible. It really is about education and connecting people to resources to get what they need done to make our homes and neighborhoods safer,” said program coordinator Carlie Teague. “We all understand wildfires can happen anywhere, and we’re learning they can happen at almost any time. This program is designed to help communities prepare, to give ourselves the best chance to protect life and property when we do have a wildfire.”

Volunteers are being sought around the lake. Learn more about how to get involved at Contact Carlie Teague,, to become a fire adapted community leader in your neighborhood.

Five steps you can take today to prepare for wildfire

Access: Ensure your home can be accessed by emergency responders during a fire by making sure address and street signs are visible and gated driveways can be accessed.

Built environment: Use fire-resistant or noncombustible roofing, siding, decking, trim, and fencing materials. Check for flying ember vulnerabilities and remove debris from gutters, roofs, vents, and chimneys.

Defensible space: Contact your local fire district for a free defensible space evaluation and ask about free chipping services.

Community protection: Talk to your neighbors about wildfire preparedness and encourage them to get a defensible space evaluation.

Evacuation: Sign up for emergency notifications, make an evacuation supply kit and family emergency plan, and practice preparing your home, family, and guests for an evacuation.

This story was published in the summer 2018 edition of Tom Lotshaw is public information officer for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.