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Readers Write

This letter is in regard to former Assemblyman Tim Leslie’s guest column published in the July 9 Sierra Sun titled: Angora: Anger, accountability & action.Once again, Leslie offers his criticisms from behind the desk that keeps him from actually standing in the forests he claims to know so much about.It doesn’t surprise me that Mr. Leslie is charging that environmentalists and Lahontan are responsible for conditions that created the Angora fire. It does, however, upset me that his accusations are intended to divide the local community that he claims to have represented so well in Sacramento.Here are a couple of facts that Mr. Leslie overlooked. First, in the last 10 years, there has not been a challenge by an environmental group to any Forest Service thinning project in the Tahoe Basin. In fact, during that time, these same groups have helped secure tens of millions of dollars from the federal government specifically to treat forest fuels in the wildland-urban interface, where fire danger is greatest.I encourage Leslie to put on gloves, as I have several times, and participate in the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s annual Tahoe Forest Stewardship Day. Community education about living in forest landscapes is important, and what better way to learn about how we can all do our part to protect our neighborhoods and be good stewards of the land than by directly participating in hands-on projects like small-tree thinning and implementing erosion control projects?Theresa May DugganTahoe Vista

The recent Angora Fire in South Lake Tahoe was very tragic, for all concerned. Two-hundred-and-forty-two families lost their homes, with another 35 homes damaged. But some (number unknown) survived the raging crown fire. Newspapers and fire personnel have reported the usual advice to homeowners in wildland-interface areas to clear brush around the structure and have a fireproof roof. Good advice, but how much difference can it really make?Several years ago I studied a comprehensive report by CDF on a huge brush-fed, wind-driven, wildland-interface fire in the hills outside of Santa Barbara. That fire, in June 1990, caused by arson, and named the Paint Fire, burned over 4,900 acres and destroyed or damaged 535 structures; 357 were undamaged.After the fire, the fire authorities conducted a detailed survey of the site of each structure, whether destroyed, damaged, or undamaged. The survey teams interviewed residents, visited all 902 sites, etc to gather as much detail as possible to answer three questions: 1. Was the roof flammable? 2. Had the flammable brush/trees been cleared the requisite distance (by state law) from the structure? 3. Was anyone on the site during the fire that might have been capable of extinguishing a small fire?These data were analyzed by a statistical process (called a logistic regression), with the following conclusions, for the Paint Fire: For structures with both a non-combustible roof and 30 foot clearance, but without defensive action, the survival rate was projected to be 86 percent. With all three criteria present the survival rate was projected to be greater than 99 percent. However with all three absent (flammable roof, no clearance, no defensive action) the survivability was projected to be 4 percent.Clearly, actions by the homeowner can make a difference.George R. BrewerCarmel, Calif.

Let’s be straight about this. The League, the Sierra Club, TRPA, Lahontan, the Forest Service, and local fire departments are not responsible for the disastrous Angora fire. Each of these organizations and agencies has been warning us for years of the danger of catastrophic fire in the basin and trying to get us to do more about it.If we choose to live where fire is an almost constant danger during the summer and fall, then we must accept personal and collective responsibility for minimizing the danger. Repeating empty slogans and angry accusations will do nothing to help us.Yet there is much we can do, including, it seems to me, the following: Require homeowners to replace shake roofs with fire resistant roofing. Encourage maximum use of fire resistant materials and designs for all building and rebuilding in vulnerable areas. Mandate defensible space practices throughout the basin and provide low-interest loans and grants to homeowners needing such assistance. See that the federal government provides the resources the Forest Service needs to patrol its trails when the fire danger reaches high in the basin. Establish very substantial fines for illegal campfires and other unauthorized burning. Improve training for 911 monitoring personnel (As everyone except me carries a cell phone, we have an excellent early warning system if we can only take advantage of it.) Educate ourselves about the need for controlled burns and the burning of slash piles following forest thinning projects. Subsidize transportation of biomass out of the basin for heat and energy production until it becomes economical to do so.I’m sure that those who know much more about all this than I do have many other recommendations. But what we must keep in mind is that although we cannot hope to stop every arsonist or illegal campfire, or respond instantly to every lightning strike, it is much less costly to try to prevent or minimize fires than it is to fight them and then repair the resulting damage to the environment and to individual’s lives.Jerome EvansSouth Lake Tahoe

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