Prescribed burns could start this week

The North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District will probably light its first prescribed burns of the fall season today.

Burn boss Capt. Norb Szczurek said the weather forecast looked favorable for treating two areas in upper Incline Village.

The burns are part of a fuel-thinning program that provides a protective halo around the community where a fire outbreak would be relatively easy to control.

Spokeswoman Tia Rancourt said a phone number, 833-8118, is available for updates on the burn plans. She added that those who are sensitive to smoke should stay indoors and close windows.

Szczurek said about 80 percent of the upper Incline Village subdivisions have already been treated over the last decade.

During the fiery days of June, when the Martis blaze blackened vast tracts north of Lake Tahoe, the halo was ready to protect Incline Village and Crystal Bay, drawing praise from federal and state fire fighters who saw it.

The district's fuels management program and others like it throughout the country are an outgrowth of the realization that fire suppression can cause catastrophic, high intensity wildfires and contribute to tree disease and insect infestation. In contrast, the low intensity fires that evolve naturally lead to healthy forests and reduced fire risk.

"We want to mimic natural, lightning-cause fires that spread on their own, have low intensity and are a clean burn," said Szczurek.

While some worry that the program could lead to a catastrophic prescribed burn like the one that raced out of control two years ago in New Mexico, the fire district brings over 10 years of experience and safeguards that reduce the risk.

"We have checks on our checks," said Szczurek. "We start with a morning briefing on the day of the burn to make sure we all know the plan. And then an 11-point checklist must be satisfied before the burn proceeds. We then follow that by a test fire to 'ground truth' the fire design."

Szczurek said 10 to 20 personnel are on site the first night, and at least two remain for the next 24-hour period to ensure the fire remains out.

"We follow that with a patrol mode, where we check it two or three times each day, depending on the fire's behavior, and then taper off to once a day," he said. "We use our off-duty staff for the monitoring to ensure we're 100 percent staffed during the on-shift. We pretty much monitor it until there is snow on the ground. We also document the whole process

with photographs."


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