Agencies draw criticism at Tahoe fire forum
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Officials who promised to help victims of a major Tahoe Basin fire got polite applause at a Monday forum – but the loudest cheering was for victims of the Angora fire who questioned whether bureaucratic red tape hindered advance efforts to prevent such disasters.
California Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, joined by Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons and officials from various agencies and groups with a stake in protecting Tahoe, promised the fire victims that he’d work to curtail the bureaucracy. He said people are frustrated and “need some answers.”
The fire that erupted nearly a month ago destroyed more than 250 homes on the California side of the Tahoe Basin, but Gibbons said the border between the two states joins rather than separates them. He pressed for “sound science” and the use of proven methods in thinning dense forests to reduce fire hazards.
Dozens of local residents spoke at the forum, including Chris Horton, who lost his home in the fire. Horton said he believed the fire that caused more than $140 million in property damage was fueled in part by hundreds of piles of slash left on the ground by crews clearing out the woods in the past.
While some officials said the wood piles weren’t a big factor in the wind-driven inferno that swept through a subdivision on Lake Tahoe’s south shore, Horton said after the forum, “I just don’t believe it.”
“My point is, manage these programs so that you keep up with them,” he added.
Lane Sykes, whose home was damaged, said the bistate Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which oversees the area, gave him an inspection report that prevented him from removing pine needles around his property. He said those pine needles contributed to the damage to his home.
The TRPA has emerged as a favorite target for those seeking to assign blame for the fire. Many Tahoe residents say the agency has overstepped its original mission by adopting strict policies that limit tree-cutting on private property.
Solange Schwalbe, whose home was destroyed in the fire that was started by an illegal campfire, questioned why a fire lookout station on Angora Ridge, which overlooks the torched area, hadn’t been manned for some 10 years.
Other speakers called for the use of heavy machinery to help remove trees in stream zones which can become pathways for spreading fires – although officials insisted that such clearing methods have been utilized in some areas.
Heads of various agencies, including the TRPA, Forest Service, Lahontan Water Quality Control Board and others, were encouraged to improve their communication with locals. All the agencies promised to do so.
The officials also were urged not to continue seeking more studies because there are enough studies and reports that have shown what’s needed – major funding for forest cleanup and a streamlining of the permits needed to get that work done.