The Martis Fire: A lesson for the future |

The Martis Fire: A lesson for the future

Just about five years ago the sky above Truckee and the North Shore was dark with smoke for a solid week.

At times the ashy columns swirling off the Martis Fire formed into a towering mushroom cloud. With something as simple and uncontrollable as a shift in the wind, the wildfire could have laid waste to areas of Truckee, Kings Beach and all points between.

Instead, 15,000 acres of Mount Rose’s foothills and the watershed canyons that feed the Truckee River were left burnt and barren.

But as Sierra Sun reporter David Bunker reports in “5 years after the flames” in today’s newspaper, Mother Nature has proven resilient.

Along with replanting efforts by the U.S. Forest Service and natural recovery, the hills are now coming back to life. The problem, however, is that much of what is growing will become fuel for the next wildfire. Manzanita, white thorn brush and fir trees are repopulating the largely shadeless burn area.

With another fire season upon us, that is a lesson for those of us who live in the Sierra to take to heart. Drive through any neighborhood on the North Shore and Truckee and you’ll see homes that wouldn’t stand a chance in a wildfire. Too much brush, or ladder fuel, under trees and too close to homes.

In the event of a wildfire ” yes, there will be another big one sooner or later ” houses without defensible space will be passed up by firefighters who look for homes that have a chance to be saved.

According to a study by the University of Nevada, Reno, a home with 101 feet of defensible space or more and a fire resistant roof has .7 percent chance of burning in a wildfire. A home with the same roof, but with only 30 feet or less of defensible space, has a 24 percent chance of going up in flames. That’s one of the reasons California has a new law that extends defensible space clearances around homes and structures from 30 feet to 100 feet.

The new law does not mean each home must now have a 100-foot circle of dirt around it. Instead, state fire officials want us to think in zones.

Zone 1 is 30 feet around your home and has no dead grass, pine needles or brush. Keep your roof clear of pine needles, leaves or dead branches from trees. Install a green belt such as lawn or firesafe landscaping.

Zone 2 is 70 feet out. This area needs to be kept “lean and green.” Trees and plants may remain but need to be free of undergrowth. Densely crowded stands of trees or brush need to be thinned out.

If wildfire isn’t on your mind, it should be. All you need to do is look at the scars left behind by the Martis Fire as a reminder.

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