Saturday, November 17, 2007

Angora --November update

unpublished story submitted to tahoe mt. news for nov issue:

By Kathryn Reed

Even though El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago is not thrilled with how everything has transpired since the Angora Fire, she is a resource for what to do when a catastrophe strikes.
Lt. Gov. John Garamendi summoned her to Southern California in late October-early November to enlighten the folks how to proceed when homes are lost, acreage is charred and lives upended by a wildfire.
To help victims of the Angora Fire, Santiago will be setting up a one-stop office for people wanting to rebuild.
“We had a multi-agency team for tree removal. I’m going to setup the same thing for the reconstruction process so architects, engineers, contractors all have a single point of contract,” Santiago said. “I’ve heard one too many times ‘I wish I had taken my money and bought in Minden or the county or city’.”
When it rained in mid-September, Carry Loomis watched water flow into her footing. She and her husband, Tom, and their 12-year-old child lost their home on Coyote Ridge Circle when an illegal campfire wiped out more than 250 houses June 24.
They are rebuilding, but it hasn’t been easy. Loomis is critical of the county.
“I feel like they didn’t expect people to turn around so fast and rebuild. Those of us who did ran into complications,” Loomis said. “It felt like roadblocks were thrown up arbitrarily.”
Santiago said much of the frustration on her end has to do with managers making decisions that will bring flexibility to the process, but people in the field operating by the old rules.
She took her cause to her colleagues in Placerville this month to have the Board of Supervisors OK hiring someone who understands the process and has customer service skills to head the temporary agency. Funding most likely will come from the California Disaster Assistance Act. Essentially it will be a branch of the county Building Department just for Angora.
It’s possible this offshoot will operate out of the old Job One building. Santiago said they may share office space with the Red Cross, which plans to work on long-term recovery for Angora survivors for the next three years.
Santiago is regularly in touch with the Community Disaster Relief Center based out of the Pine Cone Plaza.
“They are a conduit to services. They have case workers,” Santiago said. “They will try to find resource for these folks in terms of long-term recovery.”
Burn area issues
South Lake Tahoe City Manager Dave Jinkens has heard from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board but not the U.S. Forest Service in regards to his concerns about runoff in the burn area affecting city residents, property and the Lake.
“Permittees are only responsible for flows generated within their respective jurisdictions. The City, therefore, cannot be held liable for runoff exceeding effluent limits that originates outside jurisdictional boundaries …,” Harold Singer, executive director of the water board, wrote to the city.
Jinkens hopes to meet with Forest Service officials soon to discuss his concerns about what is being done in the Gardner Mountain area as well as possibly recouping costs for the city’s efforts to stop winter runoff.
Terry Marceron, local Forest Service supervisor, was unavailable for comment because she was on vacation.
The September and October storms have not caused any runoff issues, according all agencies queried.
“Scientists were out to the hydromulch area after some of the fairly good rainfall. It wasn’t moving at all,” said Cheva Heck, Forest Service spokeswoman.
This month the city expects to wrap up its erosion control efforts in the Gardner Mountain area and at the foot of the hill leading to South Tahoe High School.
The Forest Service completed tree removal of its urban lots on Oct. 30.
“The remaining work between now and November 30 will complete needed roads and trails repairs, eliminate remaining traces of fire suppression activities, and reinforce existing drainages to prevent erosion or run-off damage,” the agency said in a press release.
Bi-state fire commission
At the October bi-state fire commission the agreement between the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board and regional fire chiefs was discussed.
The agreement includes:
• Allowing trees 14-inches in diameter to be cut without a permit within the defensible space zone for fire protection.
• Fire agencies reviewing emergency vehicle access to properties early in the planning stages of development.
• Allowing 100 feet of defensible space around homes and 300 feet on steep slopes.
Still being discussed is the use of pine needles. TRPA likes them for erosion control. Fire officials see them as flammable material.
At the initial September meeting the 21 commissioners touched on having both governors seek a federal emergency declaration for the basin when it comes to fuel reduction. This idea was further discussed last month with a formal agreement to study the idea.
What a state of emergency would mean, funding for it and other issues are expected to be discussed at the next meeting.
It’s been estimated that $200 million is needed to complete the fuel reduction projects in the basin.
The Nov. 8-9 meetings were canceled because of the devastation down south. As of press time they had not been rescheduled.
The panel is mandated to issue a final report in March.
Board of Supes in Tahoe
On Oct. 23 the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors met at Lake Tahoe Community College, with an update on the Angora Fire near the top of the agenda.
Kathy Murphy, fuels specialist with the Forest Service, gave a PowerPoint presentation that showed before, during and after pictures of the nearly 3,100-acre inferno.
“If fire hazard reduction is the goal of treatment, then we need a more aggressive treatment on steep ground than flat,” Murphy told the crowd.
She showed pictures where thinned out areas in flat areas burned on the ground – what’s supposed to happen. Whereas the hillside going up to Angora Ridge is a total loss because the fire burned so hot and crowned even where fuels had been removed.
With the three components of fire being weather, topography and fuel, and the latter the only thing people have control over, removal of it needs to work in all areas, she stressed.
Murphy showed photos of houses ablaze but trees and bushes untouched. This was evidence of some houses being ignited by embers.
A crown fire raged in Angora Creek stream environmental zone.
“We saw very little evidence of riparian vegetation (there),” Murphy said of the densely forested area. “It’s choked with conifer trees.”
Other fire information
As of early this month, Cal Fire said fire season in Amador and El Dorado counties was ongoing.
“Due to the commitment of resources in Southern California and predicted warm and dry conditions it’s not likely there will be a permissive burn day for some time. Burn permits are required for all backyard burning,” an Oct. 24 release said.
The 45-day mail-in voting period in the Tahoe City area ended Oct. 24 with the approval of a tax that should produce $625,000 for North Tahoe Fire Protection District programs. Money will go toward wood chipping, fuels reduction, defensible space, upgrading communication systems, paying for fire suppression helicopters, planning neighborhood evacuation routes and upping fire personnel staff during critical times.
Homeowners will pay a minimum of $48 a year.
On Nov. 13, Scott Stephens of UC Berkeley will talk at Sierra Nevada College in Incline about the interactions of wildland fires and ecosystems. The 5:30-7 p.m. meeting costs $5.

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