Opinion: Risk of catastrophic fire at Lake Tahoe just got worse
The Placer County Board of Supervisors leveled two substantial and profound blows to the future of Lake Tahoe as we know it. The approvals of the Martis Valley West and the Squaw Valley Village developments demonstrate a callous disregard for the people of North Lake Tahoe.
If these developments go forward, our road and fire safety conditions will be forever degraded. The mitigation measures accepted by the county to offset the disclosed impacts will not meet the public’s health and safety needs.
Each development will result in Level F traffic conditions, the worst state or federal traffic rating possible. Each development would put thousands of more cars on roads that already exceed their design capacity, that already experience multi-hour traffic jams (Truckee to Alpine Meadows, Squaw to Tahoe City, Kings Beach to Truckee).
We now have 102 million dead trees in California (based on this year’s forest surveys), and Tahoe’s share is growing. Dying forests, expanding insect infestations and warming seasons will without question bring larger and more frequent forest fires to all of North Lake Tahoe.
The Squaw and Martis developments ignore this new reality. Our county supervisors just decided that a 10.7-hour travel time for a car in an emergency evacuation of Squaw is OK.
Placer County isn’t very concerned about the fire threats the communities will be facing. The pro-development presentations to the Supervisors suggesting that catastrophic fires can be handled indicates a lack of experience with big fires.
Persons that have been in catastrophic fires would never condone placing thousands of people in a setting with only one road in and one road out. From a National Academy of Sciences 2016 report on the emerging future of forest fires:
“I’d expect (catastrophic fire) increases to proceed exponentially for at least the next few decades. It means getting out of fire’s way. I’d definitely be worried about living in a forested area with only one road in and one road out.”
Placer County apparently missed this report.
I’m in Alpine Meadows. I’ve been in forest fires where tree tops exploded and threw large burning tree chunks over high ridges, jumping the fire a mile ahead of firefighters. We have one road in and out of Alpine, as does Squaw.
We all end up on Highway 89, another narrow road to either Tahoe City or Truckee. Squaw Village will add another 8,000 cars to the mess we have now. People aren’t good at waiting out catastrophic fires, so picture the future big fire. Stopped traffic, school buses and ambulances with nowhere to go.
The Placer County Supervisors need to be held accountable for the risk they are imposing on the North Tahoe communities (and visitors). No other government entity can control how many people might be caught in a hazardous situation. These development decisions are determining how many persons will be put at risk.
I encourage you to support Sierra Watch in the fight to reverse these decisions, to protect the public interest.
Daniel D. Heagerty is an Alpine Meadows resident.