Officials warn that fire season is on its way | SierraSun.com

Officials warn that fire season is on its way

Hannah Jones
hjones@sierrasun.com

Despite the heavy snowfall this winter, officials warn that Truckee is still in danger of a severe wildfire this summer.

“It’s hard to imagine that we’ll have a wildfire problem this summer,” said Truckee Fire Chief Bill Seline. “We all know that the snow will melt, things will dry out and we’ll experience our share of critical fire weather days.”

Typically Cal Fire will call for fire season between June and November. In Truckee, fire season normally lasts between August and October. Though the season is shorter, Seline said “we do have a vegetation model and a fire history that has produced some large fires before and, of course, it can happen again.”

In 2007, Cal Fire began mapping out fire hazard zones. According to their map most of the Truckee area is at a high or very high fire severity level if a fire started.

“We live in the high fire severity zone. We can’t just watch; we have to participate.” Bill Seline, Truckee fire chief

Last year there were 39 wildfires within the district, 22 of which were caused by humans and 13 of those were caused by campfires. Seline said that those escape fires in Truckee did not correspond with critical fire weather days however, “We don’t want to take that risk,” he said.

Truckee implemented a campfire ban during last fire season, encouraging people to only use gas fires, as they tend to cool down quicker and are easier to control.

PROACTIVE APPROACHES

Currently, the fire district is working on forest thinning and management in the Truckee area.

“This is really the heavy lifting of fire prevention,” said Seline. “It’s time consuming and it’s expensive work.”

One project in Glenshire which began last year involves the thinning of around 50 acres, nine of which is completed. Seline said the cost of mechanical thinning is around $1,500 to $2,000 and acre.

Another method that the Forest Service carries out is prescribed burning.

“I know people hate smoke and the fear of an escaped prescribed fire is always on people’s mind,” said Seline. “But the Forest Service really believes that the answer to treat a lot of land relatively inexpensively and create the healthiest forest is prescribed fire. We need to accept that smoke is just part of our existence in the mountains,” he said.

Seline said one of the most important ways to prepare for a fire is to take responsibility for personal property.

“We live in the high fire severity zone. We can’t just watch; we have to participate,” he said.

GETTING DEFENSIVE

State law requires all property owners to create 100 feet of defensible space around their homes. This means keeping grass short and watered, stacking firewood away from your home, reducing the density of the surrounding forest, pruning branches up to 6 feet and keeping the roof and gutters clear of debris.

“Defensible space has been proven over and over to work and to save homes,” said Seline.

Some Truckee communities have gone even further, however, to receive Firewise recognitions.

Neighborhoods including Glenshire Devonshire, Lahontan, Martis Camp, Serene Lakes and Tahoe Donner have been recognized as Firewise Communities, a program that requires communities to take steps to reduce the risk of wildfires then complete an application and assessment process.

Becoming a Firewise community could help reduce insurance rates according to Seline.

“That’s encouraging,” he said, “and we hope that will continue and that we will continue to build a robust firewise community.”

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at 530-550-2652 or hjones@sierrasun.com.