written for but didn't run in feb. tahoe mt. news:
By Kathryn Reed
Keeping the area safe from another fire that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and suppression will be the focus for months and years to come.
Money from the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act (proceeds from the sale of federal land around Las Vegas are doled out in the form of grants) is funding millions of dollars worth of defensible space projects throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin. Grants from California are also being sought.
The Nevada Fire Safe Council is opening an office in the Tahoe Keys this month. Despite its name, the nonprofit council works on both sides of the state line.
Lake Valley is the next region to undergo a major push to develop neighborhood fire safe chapters. Tahoe-Douglas has more than a dozen and Incline Village has several.
“What we are looking to do is to encourage and inform people about what they can do to get defensible space done in their neighborhood and get neighbors involved,” explained Jessica Moore-Mahnken of the fire safe council.
Meetings on March 3, 4 and 8 at the Lake Valley Fire Department’s Meyers’ station are designed to inform people about fire safe chapters, and get them up and running. The weekday meetings begin at 6 p.m. and the Saturday event is at 10 a.m. Each will be about an hour depending on the number of questions.
The Nevada Council also plans to join with Tahoe Resource Conservation District (the agency which oversees residential best management practices on the California side) to demonstrate defensible space. They will likely be Saturdays once the snow melts.
The point of defensible space is to clear flammable debris from property. It’s also a state law. Some counties in California have abatement laws where if the property owner doesn’t do the work, the county will. The homeowner is billed. If it’s not paid, a lien can be put on the house. This is not a route Moore-Mahnken said the council wants to pursue.
The rules are that between zero and 5 feet from a house nothing combustible can be there – including wood piles and pine needles. Area fire agencies and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency are still discussing the pine needle-wood chip issue because TRPA likes to use them for erosion control purposes.
“The whole premise behind defensible space is if I were to walk around your property with a lit match, what would happen?” Moore-Mahnken said. “We saw in Angora embers were laying down in neighbor’s yard – softball size. If this ball of fire hit my property, what would it do? What is it landing on? Irrigated flower beds where it would fizzle out? Cedar siding or noncombustible siding? Pine needs in the gutters?”
Between 5 and 30 feet, it’s important to rid property of ladder fuels. That could a bush that leads to a low hanging branch, thus producing a ladder of fire. Vertical and horizontal thinning is necessary.
From 30 to 100 feet from the house, dead vegetation needs to be removed. A 6-foot clearance from tree limbs to the ground should exist.
Moore-Mahnken admits wood piles and decks can present difficult situations. She says to cover wood piles with fire resistant tarps, keep only the wood you need during the winter close by so when it warms up and the outdoor fire season begins the pile is gone.
Decks should not have pine needles under them or other flammable material.
“A lot of defensible space is general landscaping,” Moore-Mahnken said.
The council is taking a look at the U.S. Forest Service’s 10-year plan for fuels reduction in terms of high-threat areas. From there, the council wants to work with neighbors who will work together.
For more information, go to www.nvfsc.org.
Investigation still alive
Investigators are not giving up hope of finding the person or persons responsible for inadequately dousing the illegal campfire that hours later became the catastrophe known as the Angora Fire.
Even though Feb. 24 will mark eight months since the blaze ripped through the middle class neighborhood off Lake Tahoe Boulevard on the outskirts of the city limits and took with it 256 homes and charred 3,100 acres, no one has been arrested.
Donna Deaton, special agent with the U.S. Forest Service, is working jointly with the El Dorado County District Attorneys Office to track down the culprit.
“It’s still an open investigation,” Deaton said. “Generally with investigations we follow-up all leads and if a determination can’t be made of the person or persons responsible, we may close the case. But if in the future we get additional information, we would reopen the case.”
Beyond that she was mum. She wouldn’t say what, if any, new leads have surfaced since last summer. Nor does she have a time line as to when investigators would consider the case closed even without a suspect in custody.
Burn area reopens
The Angora burn area is open to the public. But it may be short-lived.
The January storms brought enough snow to protect the area for now. When the spring melt begins, the Forest Service will revisit the issue to determine if limiting access for erosion concerns will be necessary.
The agency asks people to not tread on bare soil. When in the backcountry or steep areas of the burn area, be aware of avalanche conditions.
County assessing needs
For the fifth time on Feb. 5, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors discussed the idea of creating the Angora Reconstruction/Reconstruction Center (ARRC). In what Supervisor Norma Santiago considers a birthday gift, they approved it.
“Plans include a ‘project manager’ who will be acting as a liaison between the property owner or his/her agent (architect, contractor, etc) and the various agencies involved in the construction of a home (STPUD, TRPA, Fire Department, etc.) as well as additional staff dedicated only to working on this project,” Santiago wrote the Tahoe Mountain News before the meeting. “Having the ARRC would help with customer service, streamline processes, alleviate stress for all sides, and gives us an opportunity to test efficient operational concepts that could be utilized throughout the county.”
It’s possible “Norma’s ARRC” would be located in the El Dorado County center. Funding could come via the California Disaster Assistance Act.
At the end of 2007, 153 residents were in various stages of rebuilding. Santiago said more than 90 percent are building more than what was lost – from adding decks to adding another story.
State fines bad guys
A Southern California company found out the hard way that messing with victims of the Angora Fire would burn them. Three men have been fined for posing as insurance adjusters.
Public insurance adjusters are hired by the homeowner to negotiate directly with the insurance company in exchange for a percentage of the settlement. They must be licensed by the state.
State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner last month levied a $200,000 fine against Paramount Disaster Recovery Inc. CEO Steve Slepcevic, 39, of Palos Verdes, Matthew Todd, 48, of Redondo Beach, and Charlie R. Rose (aka Reed Lostman), 43, also of Redondo Beach. They must also pay the state $75,000 for attorney fees and not operate as unlicensed insurance claims adjusters in California.
Paramount, Slepcevic, Todd and Rose on Aug. 2 received a cease-and-desist order. The state agency said Todd and Rose, on behalf of Paramount, were securing insurance jobs from Angora Fire survivors.
“I am pleased that we could take these unscrupulous characters out of the post-disaster marketplace,” Poizner said in a press release. “Working as an unlicensed public insurance adjuster victimizes fire survivors twice and is, frankly, unfair to reputable public insurance adjusters.”
Fire commission news
The bi-state fire commission that is looking into what the basin should do about fuel reduction and other fire related issues is running out of time to offer recommendations to both governors by the March 21 deadline.
The schedule of meetings can be found at: