Are Tahoe politics to blame for Angora fire? |

Are Tahoe politics to blame for Angora fire?

Adam Jensen
Nevada Appeal News Service

Flames continue to burn the undergrowth as sun shines through the smoke near Gardner Mountain in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., on Monday, June 25, 2007. More than 700 hundred firefighters are battling the Angora fire that has consumed more than 2,500 acres. (AP Photo/Nevada Appeal,Chad Lundquist)

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Even before the ash from the Angora fire settles, some South Lake Tahoe residents have begun to lob accusations that decisions based on politics contributed to Sunday’s devastating blaze.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe, the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club’s influence drew much of the ire of Sue Abrams, a resident of the Mountain View Estates subdivision, which was heavily damaged during the blaze. These groups exert too much control over Tahoe Regional Planning Agency policy decisions, according to Abrams.

“No policies in the 30 years I’ve been here allow us to create defensible space,” Abrams said during a phone interview on Monday. “Every ordinance that was put together over the past 30 years except for the past year or so has been hands-off. Every bit of this was preventable had politics moved aside.”

Abrams, unsure of the status of her house as of Monday evening, filed suit against the federal government in 1997 concerning the management of hazard trees in the basin and is looking to bring issues surrounding the Angora fire into court as well.

“I am going to see that there is a class action suit brought,” Abrams said.

Michael Donahoe, spokesman for the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, denied the claims of environmental groups fostering a “hands-off” approach to fuels management in the basin. Clearing small trees and understory brush is encouraged by the group, according to Donahoe.

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“Unfortunately, in this situation, this area had been thinned and it still went up,” Donahoe said.

John Singlaub, executive director of the TRPA, expressed sympathy for the families affected by the Angora fire, but also denied the agency’s policies have prevented homeowners from fitting their properties with defensible space.

“In fact, it’s exactly the opposite,” Singlaub said. “More people are marking trees to be taken down than in the history of South Lake Tahoe. The one thing we can’t be accused of in any way is not allowing people to create defensible space on their property.”

In 2006, 200 defensible space inspections were conducted by Lake Valley Fire Protection District, whose service area includes the fire location. During these site visits, 900 trees were marked for removal by fire professionals, according to a press statement from the TRPA.

Although these trees were marked for removal, it is unclear how many of them were still standing when the Angora fire started on Sunday afternoon. While site inspections are free, removal is the responsibility of California property owners.

“The main factor is cost. On the Nevada side, money is available for tree removal,” said Julie Regan, spokeswoman for the TRPA, on Monday. “We need to make that happen on the California side.”

Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Proposals:

• We will be working with the local building departments to streamline rebuilding efforts for those affected by the fire.

• Current rules allow for property owners to pursue the replacement of previously existing development for up to 18 months from the fire.

• We will be discussing possible extensions to this timeline if needed.

• Existing documentation concerning the location and type of development that existed before the fire will be utilized to help property owners get through the rebuilding process.

• We anticipate organizing community workshops as soon as possible to answer questions and to present a streamlined process to aid in the rebuilding process.


The work of lake clarity

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Executive Director John Singlaub agreed his organization has its work cut out for it – efforts that top issues of tree removal and property coverage.

Singlaub said TRPA needs to evaluate the effects from the multitude of ash in the air that’s deposited in Lake Tahoe.

“This is one of the worst things that could happen to us,” he said, referring to lake clarity.

For years, the TRPA and other water quality agencies have studied and concluded fine sediments make up the worst culprit for eroding the lake’s signature cobalt blue shade.

Another issue – erosion control measures will keep South Shore residents busy as vegetation has been removed from the Angora fire, which has already consumed more than 2,500 acres.

– Nevada Appeal News Service