Preserving water for the fire fight

Water purveyors around Lake Tahoe are reporting an alarming trend; residents leaving irrigation, garden hoses, and sprinklers on roofs actively running as they follow evacuation orders. Not only is this not helpful in protecting homes from wildfire, but it can be detrimental for firefighters who rely on a water supply with adequate water flow to fight fire in extremely dangerous conditions.

As a result, Lake Tahoe utility districts and water purveyors are experiencing a huge draw-down in their water supply since evacuation warnings and orders went into effect. Many tanks are drawn down and wells are pumping at maximum capacity throughout our area, even in evacuated areas that should be empty of residents. This can leave tanks dangerously low when firefighters need fast access to water from fire hydrants to protect homes.

Residents are also calling fire districts to ask if they should spray down roofs, and vegetation before evacuating. This is not effective, as the roof will dry very quickly, as will the vegetation, which doesn’t protect the home itself. Wide-scale activation of sprinklers and garden hoses dramatically reduces water pressure in the entire community. Firefighters apply water judiciously, where it makes a difference, and they need all the available water pressure during a fire. Evacuation preparedness efforts are better spent on removing combustible material away from homes.

“Hardening homes to ember intrusion is one of the most effective preparedness efforts residents can take to protect their homes in a wildfire,” said North Tahoe Fire Chief Steve Leighton “We ask that you turn off any outdoor irrigation, roof sprinklers or hoses before you evacuate to ensure our firefighters have ample water and enough water pressure to safely fight the fire. Clear roofs of pine needles and leaf litter, remove combustible decorations, furniture and cushions from decks, and clear away any other combustible material to help prevent homes from catching fire.”

Ember vulnerabilities cause nearly 90% of homes to burn in a wildfire, whereas the flame front or surface fires are responsible for only around 10% of homes lost to wildfire. Maintaining defensible space and having separation between flammable fuels, along with hardening homes to ember intrusion are the best preparations residents can take prior to evacuating homes.

In the event that you have to evacuate, use this Wildfire Evacuation Checklist for guidance. Practice the plan with your family, pets, and neighbors. Muscle memory will help in times of real emergency.

Visit and follow @tahoelwf on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more wildfire preparedness and prevention information. For the latest information on the Caldor Fire, follow @calfireaeu on social media, and visit

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