Governors declare fire emergency at Tahoe
Sun News Service
Emergency declarations for the five counties surrounding Lake Tahoe were part of proclamations signed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons on Tuesday.
The declarations will allow immediate action by local, state and federal agencies to reduce the wildfire threat to the Lake Tahoe Basin, according to statements released by the governors.
“We will not rest until this natural crown jewel is as safe as it is beautiful,” Schwarzenegger said during a news conference before the signing.
The proclamations included the next steps each state will take to enact more than 70 recommendations developed by the California-Nevada Tahoe Basin Fire Commission, which was created by the governors after the Angora fire to examine land-use policies influencing fire prevention in the basin.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., joined the governors, commission members and firefighters at the conference held at Lake Valley Fire Protection District Station No. 7 in Meyers.
The creation and maintenance of defensible space around private property tops the list of priorities to prevent another catastrophic wildfire in the basin, the senator said.
“Saving Lake Tahoe is going to be a continuing work in progress,” Feinstein said. “One thing is clear: It’s not going to be done in 10 years; it will be on-going.”
As Gibbons started his speech at the conference, a light rain began to fall and gradually increased in strength.
The storm forced the governors to quickly sign the rain-pocked proclamations and move the news conference to a garage at the fire station.
Gibbons described the recommendations issued by the fire commission and both states’ proclamations as a “new beginning” to how the resources in the basin are managed.
“This is exactly the tool we need,” Gibbons said.
Recommendations including policy revisions, education, funding and environmental practices are among the commission findings affecting the Nevada side of the basin, according to a statement from Gibbons’ office.
California’s proclamation includes language increasing the possibility of stationing more CAL FIRE personnel in the basin during times of increased fire risk.
The proclamation also directs CAL FIRE staff to conduct defensible-space inspections and impose fines or liens against property owners who fail to implement defensible space.
But the role of CAL FIRE in defensible-space inspections relative to local agencies’ involvement is not adequately spelled out in the commission’s report, said Rochelle Nason, executive director for the League to Save Lake Tahoe.
“Somebody has to be accountable for the results,” Nason said.
The defensible-space components in the commission’s report are “a good start but won’t necessarily go far enough,” said Zephyr Cove resident R.J. Clason, who said he hoped the report will encourage basin agencies to put “human safety first and environmental safety second.”
After the conference moved inside, Schwarzenegger complimented the commission’s work and responded to a question about concerns from the environmental community regarding the report by saying managing wildfire in the basin is “one of those things where everyone has to compromise.”
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