My Turn: Keeping up with demand for defensible space | SierraSun.com

My Turn: Keeping up with demand for defensible space

Jessica Mahnken
Nevada Fire Safe Council

The increase in the volume of requests this year for fire defensible space services around the Tahoe Basin tells us one thing ” Tahoe residents are ready to protect their homes and communities from wildfire. Fire agencies and the Nevada Fire Safe Council’s Tahoe Basin Region are ready to help and are striving to keep up with a defensible space inspection demand that has more than quadrupled from two years ago, with fire agencies in the basin conducting more than 6,320 defensible space inspections this season.

The Angora Fire proved it is not a matter of if ” but when ” a catastrophic wildfire will strike Lake Tahoe. Our forests are overcrowded and unhealthy and unfortunately many of our private properties are not as safe as they should be. The threat of wildfire to our communities and Lake Tahoe needs to be answered by a continued swift and sustained effort from every property owner, both public and private.

Tahoe Basin homeowners are thinning brush, trimming and removing trees at an unprecedented rate. Many are doing this by taking advantage of the free services offered by the fire districts and departments, as well as the special rebate vouchers available through the Nevada Fire Safe Council’s Tahoe Basin office.

When defensible space became a household phrase following the Angora Fire, the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team recognized that the demand for defensible space services would be drastically increased and addressed the needs accordingly, however the increased demand was far beyond expectations. Again, proving Tahoe homeowners are ready to do the work to make their neighborhoods safer.

While these agencies are available to assist homeowners in the process of doing their defensible space, according to state and local laws, it is still a property owner’s responsibility to implement and maintain defensible space. With the increased demand the fire agencies experienced over the busy summer and fall seasons, long waiting lists were a reality.

However, it is beneficial to know that there are many things you can do on your property while you wait for these free services to catch up to demand.

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The Living with Fire Guide for Tahoe Basin homeowners is an invaluable tool for information on what homeowners should be doing on their own private properties. These guidelines can be picked up at any fire station, TRPA offices, the Nevada Fire Safe Council’s Tahoe Basin office or on the web at http://www.livingwithfire.info/tahoe. These guidelines work in conjunction with the various state and local laws pertaining to defensible space, as well as recognizing the increased care that is needed in our unique Tahoe environment.

If, while utilizing the Living with Fire guidelines and doing your defensible space, you experienced a wait for free curbside chipping services, please remember that it was not long ago that no service existed at all.

The demand for this valuable service was beyond all fire agencies’ expectations. At season’s end, over 3,500 properties have had free curbside chipping. One successful strategy that has been used is for neighborhoods to organize and work together to have all of their chipping be done at one time.

For more information on neighborhood organizing, contact the Nevada Fire Safe Council’s Tahoe Basin office (which also serves the California side of the basin) at (530) 543-FIRE (3473).

The popular defensible space rebate vouchers, offered through the Nevada Fire Safe Council’s Tahoe Basin office, continue to be a terrific incentive in assisting homeowners to get their defensible space done. Nearly all areas of the Basin still have 2008 vouchers available, and all of Lake Tahoe will have 2009 vouchers available next season.

These rebate vouchers can provide homeowners up to $1,000 back on completed defensible space work done on their properties. These vouchers have given a wonderful boost in the number of homeowners that have been able to get their defensible space work done. Currently more than 572 homeowners have received rebates for completing their defensible space.

While the services provided to Tahoe homeowners are helpful, waiting lists should not be a limiting factor for each of us to protect our homes and our communities. All of our fire agencies, as well as our public partners, share the public’s sense of urgency and concern over wildfire, and have been responding to the tremendous volume of requests as quickly as possible. Above all, we need to continue this momentum into next season of working together to sustain the efforts in making our communities safe.