Skip to comments.Fireworks take back seat (New FIRE in Lake Tahoe area)
Posted on 07/04/2002 4:04:55 PM PDT by petuniasevan
July 4, 2002
Jim Grant/Tahoe Tribune
By Greg Crofton, Jeff Munson, Tahoe Daily Tribune
A wildfire burning out of control east of Heavenly Ski resort has consumed more than 200 acres and several hundred Upper Kingsbury Grade residents have been evacuated, officials said.
The fire began around 12:40 p.m. just east of Heavenly Gondola Towers 11 and 12. A couple traveling down the gondola reported smoke to the resort.
As of 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, 420 firefighters, eight air tankers, seven helicopters, 50 engines and 12 handcrews were battling the fire.
Officials fear the fire will move over the ridge this morning.
"It's a heavily timbered area. We're well staffed and its maybe 5 percent contained and it's definitely burning out of control," said Maribeth Gustafson, a U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin supervisor. "We have a voluntary evacuation that could affect as many as 5000 people."
The fire is well away from Highway 50, the casino corridor and most primary recreation areas, she said.
"It started adjacent to the gondola. We don't know the cause," Gustafson said.
The burning property belongs to Nevada State Parks, U.S. Forest Service and California Tahoe Conservancy District.
Heavenly Ski Resort property is intact except for spot fires burning near Stagecoach and Boulder lifts, said Tim Smith, fire chief at Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District.
"This fire is real long, not real wide -- it's really going up the side of a mountain," Smith said. "By midday we'll probably have a better grasp on the size. Hopefully by then, if the weather is favorable, we'll have some containment."
Smoke was visible from Truckee to Reno, some 50 miles away with wind gusts clocked between 20-30 mph.
"The biggest challenge is the wind, fuels, terrain and access," said Kit Bailey, Forest Service fire management officer at the basin.
Tankers, bombers and helicopters dropped red fire retardant and water on the flames, which are spreading by catching on trees and jumping with wind gusts, Bailey said.
The areas of upper Kingsbury Grade, from East Benjamin Drive to the top of Daggett Summit, were evacuated on a voluntary basis.
"There are spot fires right on top of the ridge," Smith said. "The main body of the fire is still below that. But the winds (on the ridge) blow up to 30 mph every night until 11 p.m."
As of press time, the fire is moving away from the Stateline casino corridor in an easterly direction. The Ridge Tahoe and other homes at Upper Kingsbury are threatened, but fire protection is in place, Smith said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Ridge Tahoe employees were out protecting their place of work using the timeshare's foam-fire protection system.
All available fire resources on both the Nevada and California sides were responding, as well as fire protection agencies from the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and fire agencies throughout the basin, Douglas County, Washoe County and Carson City.
Until around 2 p.m., 110 people on Heavenly's gondola were trapped at the top of the gondola and on the lookout area. They were safely evacuated, said Todd Crawford, El Dorado County Sheriff's Office of Emergency Service coordinator.
Forest Service officials first estimated the fire to cover about 3 acres but said it had spread to 25 acres by mid-afternoon and to 100 acres by 4:30 p.m. and 200-plus by 8:30 p.m.
The fire is a tragedy, said South Lake Tahoe Mayor Brooke Laine. "It's heart- wrenching. What we are looking at, we knew could happen. It's sad to see our worst fears coming true.
"We've got brave people out there; real professionals who know what they are doing," Laine said. "I'm confident they will do their best to keep the community safe. "
An announcement will be made this afternoon as to whether a fireworks show scheduled over Lake Tahoe will go on as planned.
"We will make a decision tomorrow by mid-day," said Tom McKinnon, internal communication manager at Harrah's, which is putting on the event. "It will be up the firefighters, what they are doing and where they are at. Right now we are hoping it will still happen."
Sue Schlerf, interim city manager for South Lake Tahoe said the responsibility of the fire rests with the Forest Service and other agencies.
"It's not our incident. We are providing as many resources as we can to whoever needs it. We are waiting for the latest decisions and will make them with the best information possible," Schlerf said.
The fire is one of the largest in recent memory, Smith said.
"There's no question in my 30 years in the basin this is the largest fire," Smith said. "Next largest I can recall was at Glenbrook in 1980 or 1981. That got to about 100 acres before a snowstorm stopped it."
I started covering the Black Hills fire when it was only 700 acres; it's now over 12,000.
I'm afraid this fire will grow even faster. It's a LOT drier than usual.
Firefighters strike against fire
By Lauren Halsted, Tahoe Daily Tribune
STATELINE -- People stood and stared with dropped jaws as they watched their worst nightmare become reality.
"See the flames, see it?" Pancho Garcia said to fellow Stateline Raley's employee Britt Rowland.
Rowland and Garcia watched as the first two fire engines arrived around noon at the staging ground at Park Avenue and Montreal Road in South Lake Tahoe.
"Everyone's been saying it's gonna happen. But not now. Not like this," Rowland said.
"Trees are exploding. Spot fires are jumping. It's out of control," Pat Wetzel said as he watched roaring flames from the bottom of Kingsbury Grade.
Wetzel, who has lived at Tahoe every summer for the past 49 years, saw the first plume of smoke as he drove across town earlier in the day.
He said he has never seen anything like this in Tahoe, not this close.
State troopers were conducting traffic at the bottom of Kingsbury while the evacuation took place.
Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District organized a staging ground at the bottom of the grade.
"Our biggest concern right now is structures," Assistant Chief Bruce VanCleemput said at around 4 p.m.
Six strike teams, which consist of five engines and a leader, prepared for action. Their goal was to protect the structures off Kingsbury, which were at the greatest risk.
A strike team is a specifically designed unit designated to fulfill a targeted task. It stays together at all times, and is deployed in a specific location.
The teams used to fight the Gondola fire will leap-frog up the hill as needed. Fires of this nature usually spread fast, from tree-top to tree-top, and generally pass over houses, fire officials reported.
However, the strike teams will be at the scene to put out any sparks that land on roofs.
Southwest Gas had two representatives, who would not give their names, standing by in case the gas to houses needed to be turned off. They hoped it wouldn't come to that, but added it didn't look good.
A strike team staging ground was also set up at the Stateline Raley's parking lot.
The California Department of Fire Nevada Yuba Placer unit from Truckee organized a type three strike team at this location.
Type one is the highest, with water tank size and equipment determining different levels, CDF firefighter Tyler Martin said. Each type of strike team has five engines and a leader.
The commander of the unit recently returned from fighting the fires in Arizona. He was not available for comment.
Crowds of stunned people filled the parking lot. Most sat in silence and watched as disaster struck too close to home.
Each time a helicopter loaded with water flew overhead, Raley's employee April Kirkhuff whispered "thank you" with a hint of sadness in her eyes. When asked if she has ever seen anything like this, Kirkhuff, a 23-year resident, said "Not here. Not in Tahoe."
Neighbors watch flames move in
By Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune
Saddle Road-area residents watched in vain Wednesday as a huge plume of smoke and dancing flames rising across the ridge under the Heavenly Ski Resort Gondola edged closer to their homes.
The fire, called in by a CalStar air team, started at 12:30 p.m. on newly acquired California Tahoe Conservancy property, prompting traffic jams at the height of the July 4th holiday traffic period coming into Tahoe.
The smoke could be seen as far away as Reno.
"I'm packed and ready to go," said Jack Keller, who lives on Saddle Road.
His neighborhood was bustling with activity as South Lake Tahoe Police and California Department of Forestry units kept an eye on shifting winds that at times appeared to carry the growing fire southwest.
Cmdr. Tom Conner instructed the onlookers to prepare to evacuate if asked.
"As soon as it hits that gondola line, everybody's out of there," Conner said.
The units were braced to hold the line and back up fire departments that went up the throat of the fire from Park and Montreal avenues.
Linda Pounds, who lives off Sterling Court, said she saw the smoke from lake level and came home to watch its progress at the corner of Adams Way and Saddle Road.
"I thought, 'Gee, this is sort of close to home,'" Pounds said.
Jeff Mueller had three homes to consider and used the hoses to water down the patios.
What's his plan if fire approached the homes?
"To run," he said. "One (of the homeowners) left a $65,000 Range Rover in the garage and fortunately left the keys," Mueller said.
Residents and tourists lining the streets in their cars and on foot appeared mesmerized by the sight from Ski Run Boulevard to Crescent V Shopping Center.
Some people were even taking pictures of officers diverting traffic
LA itself was 10% below the record. Math wizards will come up with the odds of that, but with 150 years of data, coming 10% lower than any point ever spells big danger. It is going to be one of the worst fire seasons in modern memory, and it is just starting.
Mark Twain once wrote about his stay in the Tahoe Basin. The campfire got caught up in wind gusts and spread to the forest and began to circle the lake. It burned so hot they had to get on boats and go out in the lake due to the intense heat!!!
Others tell how in the days that Virginia City and Carson City were being built with trees from the west shore that were floated across the lake, that the lake was so filled with slash and crud that you could almost walk on the water!
I guess Tahoe wasn't so blue in those days, nor of such pristine clarity, either! Now multi-levels of governments squander multi-millions each year on erosion control projects to mitigate for all the despicable development! Now the fires will dwarf all the erosion from development!!!
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and all the militant EnvironMentalists whose only solution to sprawl is suffocation by heavy handed governmental mandate will see Mother Nature wipe out much of their expensive and expansive efforts.
My question to them is: How do you suppose all the developable semi-level or gently sloping land in the basin got there in the first place? (Can you dummys say erosion?)
And my other question is: What do superhot fires that bake the ground like ceramic cause the following rainey winter? (Can you dummys say hyper-erosion?)
And my last question is: What makes these fires superhot? (Can you dummys say ladder fuels and choking underbrush caused by your stupid governmentally enforced policies for the last 40 years?)
Yes, and to all you NIMBY Urban Refugees that support EnvironMentalist thinking they're protecting "Your (New) Back Yard," I can ask these pointed questions because Lake Tahoe, the jewel of the Sierra is SierraWasp's BACK YARD!!!
I just hope they don't get an ugly surprise with high winds whipping it back up again!
Whereas your observations are generally true, the Tahoe basin is an exception. The area has been under a clearing and controlled burn program for several years now. As for "no-road" problems- this area is fairly well criss-crossed with roads- BUT - the terrain is steep and rugged.
The area is in better shape than most, but still . . .
BTW - the fire is virtually OUT NOW - a few hot spots, but essentially OUT!