By Mark Bruce
Hiking the spectacular trails around Tahoe this time of year generally means you’ll encounter some snow. Sadly, that’s not the case this year. Even before peak summer temperatures arrive to bake the moisture out of Sierra Nevada forests, our trails are already dehydrated. This June, I am especially moved by the irony of it all: Tahoe was born more than 2 million years ago; the lake gifts us 39 trillion gallons of cobalt, alpine water and 200,000 acres of forest shade. But, in spite of camera technology that can spot fires in seconds, and the courage and diligence of firefighters who work tirelessly to prevent and battle fires, the fact is, in little more than an instant, one fire could take Tahoe away from us. As drought conditions intensify across Nevada and California, the ever-present threat of wildfire at Lake Tahoe is increasing and we all need to take actions—some actions once a year, others once a day—to protect our communities and Lake Tahoe’s precious environment.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) Governing Board passed a resolution in May bolstering the Lake Tahoe Wildfire Awareness Campaign throughout this summer. The campaign is part of the multi-agency Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team’s work to help everyone who lives and visits here prevent and prepare for wildfire. There is a lot of work going on to restore the health of Tahoe’s forests and to protect its communities, but that work needs to be met with the same level of commitment, awareness, and care from each of us.
The best way to protect against wildfire is prevention, and that requires diligence and attention from all of us in our daily lives. On average, 80 percent of fire ignitions in the Tahoe Basin are human caused, mostly illegal or abandoned campfires. Visit tahoelivingwithfire.com to confirm restrictions in your area and follow them. Make sure you know what a Red Flag warning day is and when there is one, share that with people you know and on social media. Above all, if you see something, call it in.
While the sheer devastation of 2020 wildfires was staggering, by May of this year, significantly more wildfires had been reported nationally than by May of 2020. In the fire-prone Lake Tahoe Basin, it’s not a question of if, but when wildfire will occur. Residents and visitors can save precious time and help save lives in an evacuation by preparing a “go-bag” and creating an evacuation plan ahead of time. Again, tahoelivingwithfire.com is a great resource for evacuation planning as is your local fire protection agency.
Property owners and neighborhoods have critical roles to play in fire preparedness. Find out if your home is fire safe, if it can resist ignition from falling embers, and how your landscaping should be managed. Defensible space inspections are freely available through your local fire protection district or department and will help get you started. They can also provide resources to help organize your neighborhood. Several neighborhoods around Tahoe have already received national recognition for becoming “Firewise” and being part of the Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities. Ultimately, each of us needs to take steps to prepare for wildfire and lower the risk to ourselves, our families, and our community.
We owe a debt of gratitude to our partners on the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team and to those who risk everything to protect people, property, and the environment from catastrophic wildfire. Together, basin partners have thinned and treated more than 84,000 acres of public forest and urban lots for wildfire protection over the last 25 years. Supporting this work is a top priority for TRPA and the agency is an active partner in the Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership, which will restore the health of 59,000 acres of West Shore forests. As residents, visitors, and as agencies, it is our responsibility to seek out and understand what each of us can do to minimize the threat of wildfire. We can’t do too much.
–Mark Bruce is Chairperson of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board