Fire ! Tahoe’s ‘Katrina’

In my youth I worked my way through college and law school as a merchant seaman.  My usual run was from Philadelphia to the Mississippi River delta ports.  I experienced Hurricane Camile,  the last devastating storm to strike the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast before Katrina.  I lived and worked with the coastal natives of the area.  The ‘inevitability’ of this kind of catastrophe in New Orleans was well-accepted among people who knew the Gulf weather and water.   Below-sea-level New Orleans has always “been aware” that a devastating hurricane was bound to happen.  Now the lack of preparation and foresight following Katrina has been well-documented in hindsight.

The Lake Tahoe Basin has been identified as one of the most endangered fire areas in California.  Some facts:

Wildfires in California are becoming larger and more destructive than  anything we have ever seen before… the average California fire today is twice the size of the average fire in 1980.

“Monster fires”, like the San Bernadino and San Diego fires in 2003,  are something very different than  the smaller, beneficial fires that occur in ’healthy ’ forests.

The overcrowding of Tahoe’s forests have been greatly accelerated and worsened by bark beetle infestation.

A healthy forest has apprx 66 trees per acre … our forests are clogged with 450 to 500 per acre.

John Muir wrote that in a Sierra forest “you can gallop a horse without hitting a tree” …  it is now difficult to even walk through a Tahoe forest.

A crown fire on a scale very likely in the Tahoe Basin would create an erosion catastrophe. These ‘monster’ fires sterilize soil and leave behind water-resistant hard pack clay that could undo years of clarity projects in a few days … brushland, not forest, grows back in such a devasted environment.

If we enter a high fire season as expected,  it is imperative that you educate yourself about what you must do with your Tahoe home  … any local firefighter will tell you that there strategy is save those homes first who instituted defensible space around their homes.  It’s safer and they have a greater chance of success


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