Commission eyes defensible space

 Commission eyes defensible space

18 January 2008

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South Lake Tahoe, CA, USA — The California-Nevada Tahoe Basin Fire Commission addressed ways to streamline the permit process for landowners to create defensible space on their property.

At Monday’s meeting, Lauri Kemper, the supervising water resource control engineer for the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, presented a report to the commission’s Wildland Fuels Committee.

The report looked at possible ways to shorten the permit process for homeowners to create defensible space.

“We want to get rid of overlapping permits and possibly try to get a single permit so people can avoid confusion,” Kemper said. “Right now, they may have to go through this agency or that agency to clear defensible space, and we’d like it if people would only have to apply once to clear defensible space.”

Kemper added that a single permit would benefit federal and state agencies which own land in the basin to expedite the permit process. Likely, Kemper said, the permit would carry the blessing of the Lahontan Region of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and any local agencies.

The Wildland Fuels Committee also heard an update from its air-quality working group.

The group’s job is to evaluate information used by basin fire chiefs to decide what days are good prescribed-burn days for piles made while creating defensible space.

Prescribed burns are necessary because vegetation debris accumulate after hand crews clear a wildland area for defensible space. Afterward, the debris must be burned in order to make room for future clearings.

Division Chief Norb Szczurek of the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District said he hoped the group would address what he saw as a problem with the prescribed-burn system. Currently, the California Air Resources Board, located in Sacramento, decides when fire agencies on Lake Tahoe’s California side can burn.

Szczurek said the board sometimes fails to allow agencies on the California side of the lake to burn when their Nevada counterparts can.

An official with the Placer County air-pollution control district said that is because the Board bases its burn or no-burn system on “meteorology which may not be advanced enough” originating from the Tahoe Basin.

“I’ve found that on some days we’ll burn with good success when they don’t burn,” Szczurek said. In effect, Szczurek said, agencies on the California side of the basin are losing out on valuable burn days.

Hobbs said the air-quality working group may recommend funding for additional meteorological tools in the basin to help the board make more accurate decisions on burn days but said she doesn’t know where that funding would come from.

Szczurek said one of the working group’s top priorities should be to burn piles as often as possible while remaining sensitive to air quality in the basin.

“If there is great air movement, all of the basin agencies should be burning so we can get that smoke up and out of the basin,” Szczurek said. “But we need to be sensitive to our communities, so if the air isn’t moving so well, we need to make sure we aren’t having a negative impact.”

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