TRPA a convenient scapegoat in the Angora fire blame-game
“This is the end of TRPA!” “It’s the TRPA’s fault!” “They (the TRPA) will never recover from this.”
Those are just a few of the poison arrows that have been aimed with utter finality and verbally shot at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency from the time the first pine needle in the Angora fire caught a spark up to now. The fiery vehemence of those words and worse will burn much longer than any uncontained fire.
Just like in any business, organization, or family, when things go wrong, any unfavorable incident needs a patsy, a scapegoat, a convenient target. The Angora fire is not exempt. Its monstrous hands of fire have opened a furnace door of trouble for the TRPA.
Informally, I have been a supporter of the principals and principles of TRPA. I respect any organization that is passionately responsive to the maintenance of our environment. I am especially respectful of an organization that has recognized the endangered, immaculate beauty of a pure mountain lake that is still worthy of such beauteous proclamation. America has many natural, glacier-cut or volcanically formed lakes; but those that can hold claim to glacial gleam and cleanliness are about as common as finding a live megalodon.
The TRPA is being tarred, feathered, and burned in effigy by those who think they have found a pack guilty of a crime. Those doing the blaming are not unlike any jury. They are also the ones who are taking it upon themselves to lay down charges for their perception of that crime – the penalty being abolition of the TRPA.
In my opinion, the TRPA was as responsible for the Angora fire as I am for the local real estate market’s quicksand dive. Did the excess of aged and dried ground cover contribute to the fire? Without question. But even if 90 percent of the land affected was treated for minimization of fire (instead of the actual 656 acres, or 24 percent of the total 2,736 acres of land scorched), all it would probably take is a thin line of pine needles and cones leading from a fire’s point of origin to the nearest tree to achieve damage. When winds in excess of 35 mph are heaving and blowing hard against irritable embers, anything flammable would be quick to blaze.
The TRPA protects nature. Nature is natural. We have uncountable years of history behind us that showcased major fires – most of which are beyond man’s documented accounts. Some of the most fearsomely destructive fires of our civilized history happened in humid areas where you couldn’t find a completely dry twig if you sucked it dry of its moisture yourself. The fire didn’t seem to mind. It ripped through land and homes like a fireball tsunami. The fire of Hinckley, Minn., in 1894 killed 418 people and destroyed 160,000 acres; the 1871 fire of Great Chicago took 250 lives as it bullied through 17,400 structures; and that same year saw the ferocity of the Peshtigo, Wis., fire that not only snuffed 1,500 lives, but took out an astounding 3,780,000 acres and, unsatisfied, swept over into Michigan.
Regretfully, living in a forest has its inherent dangers. So does living on a seacoast, or in proximity of active volcanoes, or in areas prone to Nor’easters. Those land-lording forces of nature were here before us. We’re just paying rent. When Mother Nature finds an opportunity to evict some of us, who are we to argue? For the Angora fire, that opportunity flashed like a vacancy sign on a dark highway when some idiots irresponsibly started an illegal campfire.
Ironically, though not unexpectedly, most of the people blaming the TRPA are not those who lost their homes in the Angora fire; they are people with other agendas – agendas that have sending the TRPA up in flames as a primary objective. When asked for reasons for the blame by TRPA representatives, the answers are usually related to occurrences from 15 or 20 years ago. The TRPA has become much more responsive since then. These are people who live and breathe on all sides of Lake Tahoe. It’s their home. They have worked to help homeowners protect their homes with defensible space. They have frequently offered their personal services to visit homes and offer recommendations to prepare that defensible space.
No one likes being told what to do. No one likes being ordered around. Many people feel that the TRPA has dictated restrictive demands on property owners far beyond their welcome. They believe that the TRPA has violated their rights as home and property owners. But remember, the objectives and plans of any one person, organization or business can shine with genius until something goes wrong. And so starts America’s favorite pastime – pointing the finger of blame.
Remember Hurricane Katrina? There was more talk about what could have been done than about the people whose lives were lost. And it went on seemingly forever, losing sight of its destination of logic, endless like a confessional road through Purgatory. Many people have forgotten the benefits of having a group of conservational protagonists. If a house burns down, why should we blame the contractor for building it with wood instead of brick? When a forest is burned, why should we blame an organization that at least tried its best to preserve its natural beauty? I personally blame the person or persons who illegally struck the match that started the campfire.
• John DiMambro is publisher of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.