Living with fire, watershed and water quality

Fire has been a natural part of Tahoe’s environment for thousands of years. These historic fires were frequent, of low intensity, and a major influence on the appearance of Tahoe’s forests. Beginning in the 1870s, Tahoe’s forests and the occurrence of fire started to change. Much of the flammable vegetation and a climate to support fire. Fire is a natural

The Living With Fire program works as a vehicle for delivering a consistent message to homeowners on how to stem the threat of wildfire in Lake Tahoe. Living With Fire reaches homeowners in multiple ways through publications, magazines, online workshops and video. Studying areas burned during the Gondola Fire at Lake Tahoe further confirmed the theory that of all the elements in the Sierra, fire is more important than water for nitrogen cycling. This has clear implications for managers who must balance the need for prescribed burns, yet remain mindful that fire can serve as a catalyst for increased nitrogen cycling. When a burned system becomes nitrogen starved, it may favor nitrogen-fixing species, which for the Sierra include plants like snow brush. process in the Lake Tahoe Basin, and many of the plants growing here evolved in the presence of frequent fires. In fact, it is unnatural for fire to be absent for very long in many areas of the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Home protectionIt is helpful to think about soil chemistry like a bank account. Nutrients move in and out of the soil like bank deposits and withdrawals, sometimes helped by water, or jump-started even more dramatically by fire. University researchers document the effects of a wildfire on vegetation, soils and water quality by comparing burned plots of land to unburned plots of land at Lake Tahoe.

The Lake Tahoe Basin, with one of the highest wildlife ignition rates in the Sierra Nevada, has an unprecedented amount of available fuel, and many communities are not prepared for wildfires. Living with Fire educates the public about the threat of wildfire and informs people how to live more safely with fire. Research has demonstrated that home survival during a wildfire is not random, but is a product of the vegetation, fuel load and home construction. Several precautions can drastically reduce the probability a home will be lost during a wildfire. For example, changing roof material from wood shakes to fire-resistant tiles and reducing fuel loads around the home will greatly reduce the chances of it being consumed in a wildfire. Generally, embers flying along winds set more homes a blaze than any other source. Embers can travel more than a mile under certain conditions, and can start a fire if they land in easily ignitable materials.

There are a number of actions a homeowner can take to reduce the chances of a home being destroyed in a wildfire. First, create defensible space around the home by removing fuels (e.g., dead sticks and plants, leaf litter, etc.) and thinning dense stands of vegetation. Ladder fuels can be removed by cutting down low tree branches and shrubs, keeping the fire from getting into the tree crown. From five to 30 feet from the home, the area should be lean (i.e., not much fuel), clean (i.e., little accumulation of dead vegetation), and green (i.e., alive and irrigated during the burning season). Homeowners should create a non-combustible area at least five feet wide at the base of the house, such as a lawn, herbaceous plants, or brick/pavers. Next, a home should create an access zone,making all roads/driveways at least 12 feet wide with a grade less than 12 percent. A 15-foot clearance should be provided for all roads to allow access for emergency vehicles. All electronically operated driveway gates require key access for local fire districts and departments. Make sure street signs and addresses are clearly visible and made from reflective, non-combustible material.

When constructing a home, much can be done to minimize the chances of wildfire damage. Roofs made of wood-shake or shingles are much more likely to be destroyed during wildfires and should be replaced with fire-resistant roofing materials. Covering the eaves with a soffit will allow heat to escape. Chimneys should be screened with approved spark arrestor caps. Wooden fences attached to a home should have the first five feet nearest the home replaced with a noncombustible section of fencing. Keep the firewood at least 30 feet from the home. Construct decks from fire-resistant materials. Keep gutters clear of materials, as gutters trap flying ambers. Windows are often the weakest parts of the home and generally break before the home burns, allowing embers easy entry into the home – and leading to internal ignition.

Finally, keep the interior of the home prepared as well as the exterior. Keep carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in the home and ensure they are functioning properly. A sprinkler system can provide effective fire protection, and be a good backup to portable fire extinguishers. Always have a fire escape plan and conduct fire exit drills. The local fire department can be a good source of advice for planning a potential escape.