MAKING SPACE: North Tahoe requests for defensible space help increase |

MAKING SPACE: North Tahoe requests for defensible space help increase

Jen Schmidt/Sun News ServiceJoe Eguen of Rifle Peak HAnd Crew prepares to fell a tree on Forest Service land in Incline Village.

At this time last year there was no Angora Fire, no bi-state blue ribbon fire commission and nowhere near the amount of requests for defensible space evaluations for many of the local fire protection districts.

“I would say we’ve had an increase in the number of requests for inspections based on what we would normally see in past years,” said Battalion Chief Dave Ruben with North Tahoe Fire Protection District. “We just opened to taking requests for work and we’ve had five to 10 requests every day.”

“I would attribute that to an increased awareness after Angora, Washoe, and the media coverage of the Tahoe Fire Commission. People are taking it seriously and trying to get the work done,” Ruben said.

Through mid-May in 2007, Forester Jeff Cutler of Incline Village’s North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District said 40 requests for defensible space evaluations were filed. So far this year 94 requests have been filed with the district.

“I think about half of the requests you can say are because of Angora, and the other half is there has been a lot of press talking about defensible space,” Cutler said.

Truckee, on the other hand, hasn’t seen a spike in requests yet, said Gene Welch, public safety and information officer.

“We’ve had more formal requests from property managers, but overall it hasn’t gone up much,” Welch said.

He said he expects an increase after Memorial Day, when more second homeowners come up and begin to work on their property.

Welch said he is also expecting an increase in chipping services requests, as the cost of fuel will make people less inclined to drive yard waste to the transfer station.

But where defensible space work requests have increased, the evaluations have led to more business locally, as Beth Moxley of Incline’s Rockwood Tree Service attests.

Her business does defensible space clearing in addition to their work removing trees and chipping.

“We’re out seven days a week doing defensible space evaluations, my business is up about 20 percent over this time last year,” Moxley said.

Greg McKay, assistant chief at the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, agreed with Cutler that part of the reason for the increased demand in evaluations is caused by local media.

“Defensible space has been in the news so much that people are thinking, what’s the harm in having us out to look at their property? It’s heightened awareness of the issue,” McKay said.

Cutler also pointed to two changes that stemmed from the bi-state fire commission, which North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District Chief Mike Brown sits on.

“First, the fire district now recommends people rake out any pine needles within thirty feet of their property,” Cutler said. “Next, the size of trees which can be taken out without a permit has grown to 14 inches, so people are getting evaluations to make sure they’re in compliance.”

Moxley said the amount of defensible space evaluations has not only driven up her business but changed Rockwood’s priorities.

“We’re actually doing a lot more in terms of defensible space clearing than we are doing our traditional tree removal,” Moxley said.

She also pointed to a $1 million stipend released by the Nevada Fire Safe Council that will go to fund defensible space for private residents.

The stipend funds 50 percent of a resident’s defensible space cost up to $1,000.

“A lot of homeowners were able to get their defensible space with the help of that money,” Moxley. “But people need to know the money is available to everyone in the Basin and not just people in Nevada.”

McKay said North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District engine crews are being trained to handle all of the evaluations, so crews can go out in their free time to get evaluations done and the amount of requests don’t back up too much.

” The Sierra Sun’s Greyson Howard contributed to this report

Tahoe Donner, Truckee’s largest subdivision has implemented a mandatory defensible space inspection program on a four-year rotation, said Bill Houdyschell, the subdivision’s head forester.

“We are going to do 1,500 inspections this year, and compliance will be mandatory,” Houdyschell said. “If somebody is in violation, they will have 45 days to correct it.”

With a total of about 6,000 lots, 1,500 a year will create a four-year rotation, he said.

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