Waitlists lengthen for wood chipping | SierraSun.com

Waitlists lengthen for wood chipping

Jenny Goldsmith
Sierra Sun

Jenny Goldsmith/Sierra SunKenny Baker from the North Tahoe Fire Protection District works quickly to clean chipping piles along Tahoe's west shore on Tuesday. The current wait list for chipping services from North Tahoe Fire is four to six weeks.

Tahoe Truckee property owners are moving quickly to defend their homes from a devastating wildfire, and local fire protection districts are trying to keep up with the unprecedented pace.

“We have three chipper modules working five days a week, but with over 12,000 homes in the district, it just takes time,” said Ed Miller, information officer for the North Tahoe Fire Protection District.

Both the North Tahoe and Meeks Bay fire districts have been overwhelmed by the volume of requests for free chipping services, and despite adding extra chipping staff and equipment, there is still a four- to six-week waiting period for piles to be cleared, Miller said

“For some properties, this is the first time defensible space measures have been implemented and the sheer volume is enormous,” Miller said. “Some piles are the size of a city bus.”

Once creating defensible space becomes a yearly routine for area homeowners, Miller said he expects the wait period to subside back to the average one to two weeks.

“Last year’s local fires, along with the recent Northern California fire siege and recent changes in the TRPA’s codes have raised the awareness level and motivated residents to create their defensible space,” Miller said. “While fire officials expected to be busy this summer, they didn’t expect quite the response that they’ve seen.”

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Truckee Fire Protection District is only running behind about two weeks from the time a chipping request is made, but Chief Bryce Keller said homeowners can make the job easier by coordinating times with neighbors.

“Just because there are delays does not mean you shouldn’t do the work,” Keller said. “Even though the pile may sit for two weeks, that’s OK. It’s no greater hazard than if it were scattered in your yard.”

North Lake Tahoe residents have also inquired about the potential risk of leaving piles near the roadside, but Meeks Bay Lt. Mike Hacker said he would rather fight a fire at the curb of the property than up against the structure.

One common misconception all fire districts are seeing is homeowners leaving the biomass piles at the edge of their property, but not calling to request the chipping service.

“People have to understand if you don’t call and get on the list, we can’t come pick it up. It’s considered trespassing,” Miller said.

The Squaw Valley Fire Department does not offer chipping services, but homeowners can request the service from North Tahoe or Truckee fire districts, said Squaw Valley Fire Chief Pete Bansen.

“The inner agency cooperation is very important,” Bansen said. “We encourage people to take advantage of the availability.”

Squaw Valley fire does offer defensible space inspections, which are performed by firefighters and officers from the department, Bansen said.

“They are experienced firefighters who are out there on the lines and are bringing back their knowledge and insight on what’s been proven to work,” Bansen said. “We’re very proud of this program … over 80 percent of homes are in compliance following one round of inspections and we’re in the 90s in round two.”

Tahoe Donner, Truckee’s largest subdivision, has implemented it’s own defensible space program, but chipping services are “backed up like everyone else,” said forester Bill Houdyschell with the Tahoe Donner Association.

The request to clear biomass in Tahoe Donner operates somewhat differently than other fire districts. Residents must pick up an application at the forestry office where they then receive a pink tag to put on the pile, signaling they’re ready for chipping crews to take it away, Houdyschell said.