Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bi-state panel formed

Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons announced Wednesday the formation of a two-state commission in an attempt to prevent future calamities like the one that raged through South Lake Tahoe this summer.

The 3,100-acre Angora Fire swelled from an illegal campfire on June 24 to destroy 254 homes, causing an estimated $153 million in damage in South Lake Tahoe. Efforts to fight the fire and the cleanup afterward cost $23 million.

The 17-member California-Nevada Tahoe Basin Fire Commission will include eight representatives each from California and Nevada and one U.S. Forest Service representative.

"We must all work together to prevent something like the Angora Fire from happening again," Schwarzenegger said. "We're going to look at the trees, the dead trees, beetle-infested trees, and see how many trees we need to take out. The important thing is we look at the mistakes that may have been made and respond accordingly."

The commission will review all laws, policies and practices regarding wildfires in the Tahoe Basin, which sits in parts of California and Nevada, and come up with ways to reduce the threat. The commission's report will be presented to the two governors next March.

The Angora Fire renewed the national debate over how to manage overgrown forest areas. In many parts of the Western United States and California, years of fire prevention have allowed forests to continue growing unchecked by natural brush fires that, over thousands of years, cleared woodlands of excess debris.

It has been a particular problem in the Lake Tahoe area, prompting forestry officials to begin manually clearing brush from certain areas.

"We all share the same goal, and that goal is the environmental beauty, health and functioning of the Lake Tahoe Basin," Gibbons said. "Catastrophic wildfire is a condition of an unhealthy forest. We want to have the rules changed, to have the policies changed, so that we can make this forest healthy once again."

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