Investigators say where it all began, but not how
June 26, 2007
MEYERS – The soot was heavy and the landscape somewhat resembled the moon – except for the yellow tape marking the origin of one of the worst disasters in the Lake Tahoe Basin’s history.
The Angora fire surged to more than 3,000 acres Tuesday afternoon when a flare up took the fire zone from North Upper Truckee and Tahoe Mountain to Gardner Mountain and evacuated Tahoe Island and Tahoe Keys. It started Sunday afternoon near Seneca Pond.
Fire investigators have cordoned off a 50-square-foot area about 100 feet from the pond, a half-mile from Seneca Drive off North Upper Truckee. Investigators are certain the fire was human-caused, but haven’t released a precise cause. Rumors as to what started the fire have been flying like embers.
Beth Brady, an investigator with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said her team has collected evidence. But she wouldn’t confirm whether a cigarette butt was among the items. More interviews will be conducted.
“We’ve narrowed it down to here,” she said. “From here, the wind had so much energy when it hit the community around Mount Rainer Drive. The fire had too much energy.”
The street off North Upper Truckee Road north of where the blaze started is among the most severely burned-out roads of Coyote Ridge, Mule Deer Circle, Pyramid Circle and Boulder Mountain Drive.
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Then, routine winds from the southwest swirled and met the wind from the northeast.
“That’s when you get really concerned,” Brady said.
The wildland fire expert was grateful for one thing: About 500 acres in the area had undergone tree-thinning designed to reduce the fuel for forest fires such as this. More than $200 million has been allocated for basin thinning projects. Angora Ridge has fallen into every map indicating severe fire hazard, and the basin’s dry winter made the area a tinderbox.
But firefighters are not out of the woods. David Marion, a wildland fire investigator helping out the team on this probe, said it’s critically important for the massive force of nearly 1,900 firefighters and nine helicopters to improve on the 44 percent containment by the time winds are expected to kick up today.
Crews had a setback when spot fires extended to Gardner Mountain and spotted across Highway 89 to Tahoe Island, the entryway to one of the South Shore’s most heavily populated areas.