Smaller doses prescribed for this year's burns

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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - Atmospheric conditions haven't been very cooperative lately, and the U.S. Forest Service likely won't burn as much as it usually does this time of year.

Despite a several-week delay, how much the agency ultimately gets done depends on the weather.

"Unless we have a super dry year, we're not going to have the window we normally do for a prescribed fire season," said Mark Johnson, fire management officer for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. "But we're not going to compromise anyone's health or push the envelope of safety just to get more burning done."

Limited pile burning has happened this week and last week on South Shore; a 250-acre underburn on North Shore may begin this week.

The Forest Service has to obtain permission from such agencies as the California Air Resources Board and Nevada Department of Environmental Protection before it can burn. The purpose is to protect the region's air quality and not impact people's health.

There has only been a few days this season where the go-ahead has been given.

Many forests in the basin are dense. Because the trees compete against each other for sunlight and nutrients, a drought plagued the region in the early 1990s and there is an ongoing bark beetle infestation, as many as a third of the trees in the basin are dead.

Natural fire has been largely absent from Tahoe for more than 100 years, and that has led to a buildup of fuels - such as pine cones, needles and fallen trees - on the forest floor.

That creates the potential for dangerous, catastrophic wildfires.

The Forest Service, with its tree-thinning Pioneer Project and other activities, has tried to create fuel breaks near residential areas. Prescribed underburning that the Forest Service often conducts cannot feasibly be done near homes. Other treatments, such as wintertime mechanical work in the case of the Pioneer Project, are done.

The final phase of the project is burning piles of fuels that have been stacked in the treated forests.

This season, the agency planned to finish 25 acres of pile burning in Douglas County, 500 acres around the Pioneer Project and other areas of El Dorado County, and 725 acres on the North Shore.

A 250-acre underburn - where officials let the fire slowly creep across the forest floor - is planned for North Shore this season, too.

The Forest Service is allowed to do prescribed burning in the fall and spring. Johnson said whatever isn't completed this season likely will be put off until next year.


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