Governors back Tahoe fire commission | SierraSun.com

Governors back Tahoe fire commission

Susan Wood
Sun News Service
Dan Thrift/Sun News ServiceCalifornia Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, left, and Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons sign an agreement Wednesday at Lake Valley Fire Protection District Station 7 to appoint a Blue Ribbon Fire Commission to review Tahoe fire safety.
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MEYERS ” Removing any perceived line dividing its sandy shores, the Lake Tahoe Basin’s two state governors signed an agreement Wednesday to form a special fire commission to review forest management practices in the wake of the Angora fire.

California and Nevada Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Gibbons used the Lake Valley Fire station in Meyers as a backdrop to define the mission of the Blue Ribbon Fire Commission. The special, fact-finding panel consisting of eight people each from both states and one U.S. Forest Service representative could be appointed as early as this Friday. It will disband two months after delivering its report.

The governors have made more appearances than usual on the South Shore since the wildland fire consumed 3,100 acres and 254 homes and caused $151 million damage. No one was hurt.

Investigators believe the fire started as an illegal campfire at Seneca Pond the night before it erupted June 24 in the North Upper Truckee area and up Tahoe Mountain.

“It’s important we all work together so (the fire victims) can rebuild their homes as soon as possible. That’s the key to this ” is to help people through this tragedy and make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Schwarzenegger addressed the media gathered at the fire station.

The public officials said they’ve been touched by fire and its devastating effects when asked if they’ve personally experienced this type of tragedy at any point in their lives, and if so, what’s their advice.

“I feel bad when people talk about their personal belongings. You can’t replace those,” Schwarzenegger said.

Gibbons said he empathizes with the fire victims since enduring his own loss years ago. His garage was crushed when a tractor fighting a nearby wildland fire rolled off a hill and fell on it.

“Whether or not your house was burned, we’re all affected. I’ve heard the frustration, and that frustration has led us to this point today. We want to solve the problem,” the Nevada governor added.

Gibbons called the fire a learning experience on several fronts. Questions and tempers have been raised regarding fuel-reduction practices and whether agencies tasked with sustaining the environment have created gridlock at removing the dead and dying trees and the undercover of flammable material.

The Nevada governor said the concern in his state is extensive ” especially given steep slopes, dry conditions and the wind patterns that would easily funnel a catastrophic fire up the ridges.

“Our all-time fear is to have a fire race up Slaughterhouse Canyon,” Gibbons said.

He stressed the forest management policies need to be reviewed. He also recommended the Blue Ribbon Fire Commission evaluate evacuation practices.

Routes in county and state emergency preparedness plans are not defined, complicating matters when people ask.

Norma Santiago, Tahoe’s District 5 supervisor for El Dorado County, emphasized the importance of communicating the policies that do work.

There are methods for alleviating the impact on the land in stream environment zones, areas in which limitations exist for mechanical fuel reduction. For example, the Lahontan Water Board’s state regulations allow hand crews to use chain saws in these areas. Pine needles may be eliminated for defensible space measures within 5 feet of a house, and trees under 6 feet in diameter can be cut down without a permit.

“We need clear identification of the charge,” Santiago said before the governors’ conference.

“One of our biggest problems is we have perception and we have reality,” she said, pledging to make logjams to reduce the debris a thing of the past.

“We intend to start building Sept. 1,” she said.

California Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, has high hopes for the task before local, state and federal authorities.

“We’ve got to make this happen,” he said.

His Republican senatorial colleague, Dave Cox of Auburn, echoed the sentiment.

“I think these recommendations will be valuable,” he said.