Angora fire reminds of local danger |

Angora fire reminds of local danger

As the plume of smoke rose above South Tahoe last Sunday, North Shore residents watched as it grew into a cloud and traveled, seemingly by the minute, down the ridge. It became frighteningly clear how real the threat of a catastrophic wildfire is in the Sierra.

As hundreds of homes were eaten by the blaze, the cause of the inferno remained clouded by thick smoke and buried under a blanket of ash.

But no amount of ash and smoke can veil the almost certain fact that this fire was not a natural one, but likely caused by human carelessness.

While defensible space around property might save homes ” when flames begin to travel aided by strong gusty winds through the canopy and along the forest floor ” nothing is certain.

With such dry conditions after a weak winter snowpack, the tragedy that has whipped through South Tahoe, known across the country now as the Angora Fire, should remind us of the very real, very deadly threat of wildfire.

While the Angora Fire may have been started by a house fire or it may have been caused by children playing with matches, the important thing is that in the dry Sierra summer heat, the tiniest of sparks can destroy homes, lives and countless acres of protected forest land.

This is exactly why backcountry travelers must heed this danger and take extreme caution in the woods.

The tiniest spark or errant ember can burn thousands of acres and hundreds of homes. Spark arresters must be installed on off-road vehicles. Even the safest of camp stoves must be used in wind-protected areas and on non-flammable surfaces.

Check the ground, make sure it’s dirt and not a thick layer of decomposing pine needles that will swallow an ember and incubate it for hours before igniting the forest floor.

And do not even think about having an open campfire. Even in some state campgrounds where fire pits may be in place, don’t risk it. Is the possibility of such widespread tragedy worth a few roasted marshmallows?

When you pause for a rest at your favorite scenic viewpoint, don’t spark up a cigarette ” or anything else for that matter. Imagine that one tiny lighter-than-air ember flying off and igniting the entire forest.

And this care is not restricted to the backcountry recreator only.

Backyard parties, patio barbecues and fireworks are possibly the deadliest of all. Do not leave barbecues unattended, be aware of heavy winds and have a primed garden hose at the ready. Do not allow small children access to matches or lighters and educate your kids on the dangers of wildfire.

As we’ve learned from Angora, in less than a day a swath of our precious wilderness and, more importantly, hundreds of homes have been lost. It could be your home, it could be your favorite bike trail or swimming hole reduced by a hellish blaze to nothing more than an ashy moonscape.

While wildfires have been a natural forest cleanser since the beginning of time, with modern forest thinning practices and homes in danger zones, the need for such periodic fires no longer exists. And the control is in our hands. We are the cause ” and we must be the prevention.

Alex Close is a sportswriter for the Sierra Sun and the assistant editor of the Tahoe World. He may be reached at

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