Notes from the Tahoe Rim Trail " fire in the forest | SierraSun.com

Notes from the Tahoe Rim Trail " fire in the forest

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

Jonah M. Kessel / Sun news serviceWhite spots mark the ground where burn piles once sat west of Boulder Mountain Drive. The area was part of the high intensity burn area during the Angora fire.

Rounding the southern end of Lake Tahoe on the rim trail, one can’t help but think of one of the most pressing issues in the area ” fire.

After the Angora Fire destroyed more than 250 homes, and caused more than $140 million in damage starting late in June, proactive measures to reduce wildfire danger around developed areas is a given.

But the woods themselves have value as well in an area that banks on its natural splendor.

Generally, more remote wilderness and recreation areas receive lower fire priority, but there are some exceptions, according to Rex Norman, spokesman for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the U.S. Forest Service.

While treating built-up stands of trees and brush helps prevent a devastating Angora Fire, the Forest Service is also looking to prevent the way Angora started ” with a runaway campfire.

“Some areas are being treated because of higher fire-start potential, wherever forested areas get a lot of use and there is a greater potential for human started fire,” Norman said.

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That means places like campgrounds where campfires, which can escape and grow into infernos, are common.

But up in the higher reaches of the Tahoe Basin natural conditions mean fire risks are lower, he said.

“Higher elevation starts are less common, the fuel loads are naturally lower and there is less potential,” Norman said.

Despite an average of 14 lightning-started fires in the high country per year, those fires rarely grow large because of the alpine conditions, he said. Lightning-sparked fires normally don’t get bigger than one-quarter acre, and normally fire crews catch them at one-10th of an acre.

Although clearly not as important as buildings and homes, the damage to a wilderness area from fire would mean the loss of another one of Tahoe’s characteristic resources.

If a large section on the Tahoe Rim Trail burned, for example, fewer users would hike, ride horses or bike, said Associate Director Erin Casey of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association.

Norman said a fire would have to be of catastrophic proportions to affect the revenue for the Forest Service, but the public’s perception of the Angora Fire has impacted the level of use as well.

“Angora has had a significant perception effect. The perception from people out of the area is that Tahoe is all black, or that they can’t get here, even though the Angora Fire only affected 1.5 percent of the land area in the basin,” Norman said.

Although people on backcountry trails like the Tahoe Rim Trail represent a risk of a fire started by a campfire, they also exercise a positive effect, Casey said.

“We have people report smoldering fires from the trail,” Casey said. “Having people out there is really great and helpful in that way.”