A fire drill in Glenbrook last week showed the best of what can be done to prevent human loss when a wildfire breaks out, but it also shows where we need further planning in the Lake Tahoe basin. Here, exit roads are few, and in the event of a catastrophic fire, every community on the lake needs to be prepared to move people fast if the worst possible scenario occurs.
In the Glenbrook area, several hundred residents participated in an exercise that utilized a reverse 911 system and three evacuation points: the beach, Glenbrook golf course and Whittell High School. If fire does start in Glenbrook, those who participated in the exercise will know where to go and how they will be notified. As we saw in last month's Waterfall fire in Carson City, that information is critical - the Waterfall fire turned abruptly on its first day, threatening hundreds of homes in the King's Canyon area. By the time the fire had stretched north, 15 homes had burned. Luckily there was no loss of life.
In Friday's exercise, problems arose in completing the emergency notification effectively. The reverse 911 system reached 277 homes, but it did it in 52 minutes instead of 12, as was planned. Emergency planners now know the system has to be studied and corrected. Dick Mirgon, an official with Douglas County Emergency Management, said the solution may be to add more lines to the system. These types of flaws are what drills are designed to reveal.
In a related story, the Forest Service has made slow progress on fire prevention work in the Glenbrook area, hampered by environmental regulations designed to protect stream zones. In these environmentally sensitive areas, use of heavy machinery is limited. Devastating fires across the West, precipitated by severe drought conditions, have shown foresters that fire prevention is fundamental. Perhaps, in circumstances related to fuels reduction, regulations can be streamlined and relaxed to allow the fastest possible means to an end we should all agree on: preventing the big one in the basin.
For the communities of Lake Tahoe, being prepared to escape from a fire might be the key to our survival, and minimizing the spread of fire should be at the top of all of our agendas.
- Tahoe Daily Tribune