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Fire danger prompts quick response

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

A small blaze on the hillside below Tahoe Donner, just north of westbound Interstate 80, on Sunday afternoon as winds picked up prompted a fast response from area firefighting agencies.

The fire, which was visible from I-80, was most likely caused by a Sept. 9 or 10 lightning strike that was smoldering in the ground and resparked by hot, dry weather and wind, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials.

Although the fire only burned a 15 -foot by 75-foot area up the hillside, CDF initially sent three engines, ordered two air tankers, and one Washington Ridge handcrew; Truckee Fire and Protection District committed two engines and a water tender and Donner Summit Fire committed one engine and helped supply CDF with water.

“We knew we were going to have tough access so we ordered big right off the bat,” said CDF Capt. Dean Levonian. “It could have given us a problem if it really got going. My thought with ordering a lot of equipment was, let’s get this fire while it’s small.”

It appeared at first the only way to gain access to the fire was from I-80, at the bottom of the steep hill, making it difficult for firefighters.

They learned quickly from air tanker pilots that firefighters and engines could gain better access from a 4-wheel drive road off of Glacier Way in Tahoe Donner and from Skislope Way.

Fortunately the wind died down quickly and the fire was easily contained, said Levonian.

“With more heat and some wind it definitely could have gotten a lot bigger. But the wind died down long enough to make access,” Levonian said.

The fire start was on a steep slope in heavy brush and had the potential to be very dangerous and hard to attack, he said. There were structures nearby, the closest being on Glacier Way and Skislope Way.

Most of the equipment was canceled soon after the initial attack, when access was made and the fire had lost its danger potential, Levonian said.

“Once we got the hose in and the engine was in, there wasn’t a need to hold the air craft,” he said.

CDF officials have been working on a preventative plan in conjunction with the Tahoe Donner Homeowners Association to possibly construct a fire break at the bottom of the hillside along I-80. Tahoe Donner is looking at the feasibility and practicality of a fire break in that area and, as the lead agency in the effort, is trying to get permission from land owners in that area to construct such a break.

The break would hopefully run from Truckee to Negro Canyon, Levonian said. Fire breaks are large ditches, usually built as least one and a half times the height of the fuel or brush in that area. If one was built in this area, it would help prevent the chance of a wildland fire caused by a road-side start from spreading and threatening homes.


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