Washoe Fire too much for private water supplier
August 21, 2007
The Washoe Fire destroyed five Tahoe Park homes Saturday, including three within the bounds of a private water company that has been under scrutiny for inadequate water supply.
Officials wouldn’t comment Monday on the chances that the Washoe Way homes could have been saved if the neighborhood had more fire hydrants and better water pressure. But as demonstrated in South Lake Tahoe’s Angora Fire, time is critical in fighting fires.
Officials agreed Monday that readily available fire-suppression resources can be the difference between saving property and losing it.
“The reality is, the demand of the incident exceeded the capacity of the private water system, which is not an uncommon thing in older subdivisions,” said North Tahoe Fire Chief Duane Whitelaw. “We were dealing with issues relating to the amount of water available and the pressure. Those two things have to work in concert for effective hose strength.”
A typical fire department response in several North Shore neighborhoods includes making arrangements for additional water supply with aircraft and fire engines. The Washoe Fire response included two helicopters, a spotter plane and four water tenders, which can carry 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of water ” nearly three times that of a regular fire engine.
“The only way to keep that pumping operation going was to take that water with us … Those things take time. Literally within minutes conditions can change,” Whitelaw said. “When the water runs out, you’re left with only shovels.”
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North Tahoe Fire officials are still investigating the cause of the structure fire on Washoe Way, Whitelaw said.
Rick Dewante, who operates the Tahoe Park Water Company, said he has made strides to find a site for a larger water tank, but has come up empty-handed.
“Tahoe Park never had storage to speak of, just a small tank that’s really used for operations. For years I’ve tried to get a parcel to put a tank on, but I haven’t had any luck,” he said.
The Tahoe Park tank holds 40,000 gallons of water, but 400,000 gallons would be necessary for adequate fire suppression, he said.
“Our pumps were on full blast [during the Washoe fire] ” 500 gallons per minute. When we lost power, we had the lake pumps on for about an hour until the power got back. Everything worked as well as it could,” Dewante said.
Dewante also operates private North Tahoe water companies in Skyland Nielson and Lake Forest, which have also been subject to complaints about water quality and supply.
Lake Forest residents, many of whom have requested the Tahoe City Public Utility District take them over ” had a scare Aug. 10 when a fire burned a quarter-acre of brush in the west end of Lake Forest.
Though no homes were damaged, homeowners said it warranted further attention to their neighborhood.
“It’s a warning; it’s a red flag that this can happen any day,” said Susan Smith, who manages 11 rental units in Lake Forest, in a phone interview. “I would like to see the [public utility district] more quickly move on the purchase of the Lake Forest Water Company ” right away.”
Some residents in the Skyland Nielson neighborhood, too, are concerned about fire-suppression resources.
“We have emergency supply issues because we don’t have an emergency generator,” said Skyland Nielson homeowner Rob Weston. “20,000 gallons would go in one house.”