The Why Behind Prescribed Fire
November 20, 2023 | Member Submitted
Submitted by NLTFPD – Tia Rancort, Public Education/Information Officer
Fire has been a natural part of the Lake Tahoe landscape for thousands of years. These fires were low-intensity, frequent, and created an open forest canopy that supported forest health and a balanced eco system. Prior to 1870 and the European-American settlement, much of the Lake Tahoe Basin burned on average every 5 to 18 years. Things changed drastically when intense logging during the Comstock era in the late 1800s clear cut the entire Lake Tahoe Basin and left the forest decimated. While the forests grew back over the next 100 years, they grew in an unnaturally thick and even-aged state and by 2007, Tahoe’s forests were in a state of emergency. Years of fire suppression, hazardous fuels accumulation, drought, and a warming climate have made Lake Tahoe’s forests extremely vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire.
Additionally, homes and communities have been inserted into Tahoe’s wildfire fuel landscape, furthering the complexity of the situation.
So why do we conduct prescribed fire operations? In short, to pick up where we interrupted mother nature in the1800s. We have a lot of ground to cover from suppressing the natural frequent fires that occurred thousands of years ago, but we have learned that mother nature knows best, and this is the best way to effectively reduce the threat of catastrophic, high intensity fires that now threaten our landscape. We also use other methodologies in tandem with prescribed fire such as manual thinning, logging, and mastication when possible.
In 2007, one of the most destructive fires in Tahoe’s history, the Angora Fire, destroyed 254 homes and structures within hours. Stoked by strong winds and overgrown forests with hazardous fuels, this fire burned 3,100 acres before being fully contained. This fire was the impetus to the Emergency Bi-State Fire Commission being formed. Collaborative efforts with federal, state and local stakeholders, the first Multi-Jurisdictional Fuel Reduction and Wildfire Prevention Strategy was created as a guiding document to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire and protect the social and ecological values in the Lake Tahoe Basin. This new ten year ‘strategy’ was essentially a compilation of the Community Wildfire Protection Plansfrom the local Tahoe Basin fire districts, the Wildland Urban Interface Plan, and the 2007 USFS Fire shed Assessment.
Today, through the diligent work of multiple agencies and the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team (TFFT), thousands of acres of hazardous fuels adjacent to communities have been treated, fire agencies are actively conducting defensible space inspections around homes, and public education and outreach programs continue through the Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities and Living With Fire programs.
The North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District has been conducting prescribed fire operations since the mid-1990s. We have completed our fire break that spans both ends of our jurisdiction and focus on re-entry into these areas to once again mimic mother nature by conducting low-intensity fire operations that help to reduce the threat of wildfire in our community.
To date this season, we have burned 37acres of understory and 61 acres of piles.
If you would like to be on our Prescribed Fire Notification list, please email email@example.com.
For information and current prescribed fire operations and forest fuels projects visit Tahoe Living With Fire website.
We hope this information has been helpful and informative.