In the wake of tragedy: Incline block party brings community together | SierraSun.com

In the wake of tragedy: Incline block party brings community together

Toree Warfield
Toree’s Stories

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Three months ago, there was a deadly fire on Tomahawk Trail, a tragedy for the family and a devastating experience for the neighbors nearby.

Jacquie Chandler, kitty-corner across the lot on War Bonnet Way, and her household were awakened by the screams. At 3 a.m., members of several households were outside, helpless in the face of the fire that was shooting flames high into the sky before it was even discovered, the neighbors instead rendered comfort to the stricken family.

One neighbor offered her home for the family to take shelter in that night, others offering hugs and blankets to the distraught family.

The next morning, Jacquie approached the firefighters with an idea. An idea that had been brewing for years but became more important in her mind that night — Jacquie wanted to have a block party and she wanted the fire department to be there.

A party, bringing people together, certainly, but with a fire safety theme. The firefighters liked the idea and expressed willingness to help.

Slowly a plan began to form. Jacquie was put in touch with April Shackelford, Fuels Management Specialist with the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District. April offered to present information regarding defensible space and discuss landscaping options.

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April connected Jacquie with Marybeth Donahoe, Fire Adapted Community Program Coordinator for the Tahoe Resource Conservation District and plans began to solidify.

Marybeth helped with the flier, Jacquie enlisted the help of neighbors to distribute the information and to talk to people directly. The party was planned as a potluck for a Saturday from 11-4, with a presentation being given by the fire department at noon.

The day before the event the weather got crazy — fierce winds, fires in surrounding areas and finally heavy rain. Oddly, the morning of the party, a brief break occurred in the weather so all systems go.

The fire department arrived early to set up tables, by 11:30 neighbors were trickling in, platters of food magically appeared, dogs and children played in the streets and eating commenced.

April was ready with a presentation on defensible space preparation and planning. We learned about the best mulches and ground covers, there were tips on the types of vegetation and shrubs that are best utilized in landscaping and we talked about home fire safety and the importance of working smoke detectors.

As April wound up her presentation, a powerful gust of wind blew all the paper plates off the table — a sign that the party would be breaking up a little early. A light rain began to fall.

Neighbors signed up for a defensible space evaluation and for free smoke detectors, which the fire department will come to install, ensuring proper placement in the home for maximum benefit.

The fire department had booklets available on fire home safety and defensible space planning and maintenance. Available from the fire department on request are ash cans — metal cans with lids for placement of ash from a fireplace, which may still contain hot embers.

Tahoe residents often use wood-burning stoves, storing wood piles near homes. April suggested covering these wood piles with fire-retardant tarps, available from home improvement stores, tarp supply stores or search online.

The party was concluded but the planning continues for the committee members, Jacquie Chandler, Marybeth Donahoe and April Shackelford. These ladies are committed to helping other neighborhoods come together to unify fire-safety planning, neighborhood by neighborhood.

War Bonnet Way residents, the area known as Whispering Pines, has a Shrub Crawl in the works for spring — Jacquie's creation — a gathering where residents get together and clean up the neighborhood.

Jacquie has agreed to be a sort of ambassador as needed for neighborhoods interested in planning a similar event. Each neighborhood needs a leader, someone willing to gather everyone together to make this happen.

Not only can a group help make a neighborhood safer overall, it does not hurt to get to know your neighbors. Jacquie calls it a natural security system — neighbors watching out for one another whether it be a suspicious person lurking, natural disaster, home fire or other threat.

The core group — Jacquie, April and Marybeth — is researching possible funding solutions for dead tree removal and defensible space creation.

The first step to making this happen in your own neighborhood is finding the "cheerleader" — that person willing to coordinate, talk to others, collect phone numbers and email addresses.

Contact Marybeth at the Tahoe Resource Conservation District at 530-543-1501 or April at ashackelford@nltfpd.net to get your neighborhood involved. If you need help getting started, Jacquie will assist as time permits, contact her at 775-298-2333.

Toree Warfield is an avid nature lover, and writes this column to teach and stimulate interest in the marvels that surround us. Visit saveourplanetearth.com to read columns and to find links to bird song recordings, additional photos and other content.