Fire season in Lake Tahoe: Slow start doesn’t guarantee slow end, officials say |

Fire season in Lake Tahoe: Slow start doesn’t guarantee slow end, officials say

Adam Jensen
Tahoe Daily Tribune
Lisa Herron / U.S. Forest ServiceThe U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit fuels crew oversees a prescribed fire near Rubicon Bay last Thursday. Weather conditions have allowed the agency to treat a total of 1,800 acres over the past year, including 400 acres this summer.

LAKE TAHOE and#8212; A not-so-long, not-so-hot summer will unofficially end this weekend, but fire risk in the Lake Tahoe Basin may just be getting started.

and#8220;Quiet,and#8221; was how U.S. Forest Service Fire Prevention Officer Beth Brady described the Lake Tahoe Basinand#8217;s 2011 fire season to date.

and#8220;We had a late start to the summer with the moisture we had, and thatand#8217;s made a difference,and#8221; Brady said.

Increased enforcement of common areas for illegal campfires may have also contributed to the low number of incidents this year, she said.

The federal agency has recorded 18 wildfires in the basin so far this fire season, far below average for this time of year, Brady said, as the forest service usually records 65 to 75 fires between late May and late October.

All 18 fires are believed to be human-caused. Each has burned less than an acre, Brady said.

The southwestern U.S. hasnand#8217;t been as lucky this summer, however. The U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has sent personnel, a fire engine and a water tender to drought and fire-stricken Texas.

Furthermore, regional fire districts have sent fuels crews to battle wildfires around the west, including the Wallow fire in Arizona, where investigators believe an unattended campfire was the cause of a blaze that burned more than 538,000 acres earlier this summer.

While Labor Day weekend often causes a shift from summer to the fall in the mindset of many people, it doesnand#8217;t do anything to lessen the wildfire risk on the ground.

and#8220;It seems like summer is over,and#8221; Brady said, and#8220;but fire season isnand#8217;t over.and#8221;

Stretches of high heat and low humidity, combined with a bout of strong wind, could put the basin back into conditions seen at the start of the Angora fire, regional fire districts warn.

A similar concern was included in an August outlook from the National Interagency Fire Center, which notes below-normal significant fire potential is expected in cooler, higher terrain like Lake Tahoe through November.

and#8220;Slow, gradual drying has brought many low to mid elevations to near normal dead fuel moistures,and#8221; according to the outlook. and#8220;However, higher soil moisture and above normal live fuel moisture in mid to upper elevations will limit the possibility of large fire activity in the absence of wind or extreme, prolonged heat.and#8221;

The forest service measured fuel moisture in the basin at 4 percent on Tuesday this week, equating to about the same as kiln-dried lumber, Brady said.

And wind makes it worse. For example, if the wind were blowing, officials said a fire that started about 2:30 a.m. Sunday at a U.S. Forest Service cabin on Echo Summit could easily have spread into the forest The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

A passerby also discovered a fire smoldering overnight near Angora Lakes about 6 a.m. Monday, Brady said, burning about a 10th of an acre.

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