USFS: Looking back at Angora provides lessons for the future


By Nancy Gibson

The Angora Fire was a significant and emotional event for the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, just as it was for the community as a whole. Many of our employees are members of the Meyers community, and experienced the emotional trauma of evacuation or learning of homes that were damaged or destroyed. Our wildland firefighters joined firefighters from our local districts and CalFire, among others, all of them true heroes as they fought to contain the wildfire and protect our neighborhoods from further harm.

Five years later, I want to take a moment to look back and see how far we’ve come. But I also want to look to the future, and the work that’s left to do.

In the fire area itself, we’ve made significant progress, including addressing immediate safety concerns, preventing erosion and runoff, and thinning trees to reduce fuel that could feed another wildfire in the decades to come. We’ve also planted thousands of native trees to help restore a healthier forest. During the summer, we’ll be continuing fuels reduction and working to improve our road and trail system. In the next few years, restoring Angora Creek and Seneca Pond will close out our efforts to restore the fire area.

Angora Fire -- 5 years later

Most residents of the Lake Tahoe Basin probably know by now what I mean when I say fuels reduction – thinning trees and removing brush that could allow a wildfire to spread rapidly and with greater intensity. The Angora Fire gave our fuels reduction treatments their first test. These treatments proved very effective, performing as intended in dropping the fire down to the forest floor and providing firefighters a safer place from which to defend the neighborhoods. Their effectiveness could clearly be seen in the still-green trees that remained in many of the treated units.

In the early days of our fuels reduction efforts, we often heard from residents and long-term visitors who were taken aback by the appearance of the forest after we thinned the trees. In the years since Angora, the community has become much more accepting of fuels reduction and prescribed fire. We will depend on this support for active management as we implement the South Shore Fuel Reduction and Healthy Forest Restoration Project, meant to help protect Lake Tahoe’s largest community from wildfire.

During a span of eight years, we will complete initial treatments to reduce forest fuels on more than 10,000 acres, from the Nevada state line to Cascade Lake. For the first time on the California side of the lake, we’ve reached agreements with regulatory agencies that will allow us to effectively treat stream environment zones, using chainsaw crews and mechanical equipment. We’re working with our partners to develop projects that reduce risk to our communities while respecting our environment. With the Incline, Carnelian and West Shore projects in the planning and permitting phases, we must all remain committed to streamlining the approval process and getting projects on the ground.

LTBMU Forest Supervisor Nancy Gibson plants trees in the Angora burn. Photo/Provided

While we’re making progress on many fronts, I am concerned that we’ve failed to heed one of the most critical lessons of the Angora Fire. On June 24, 2007, the simple, thoughtless act of making an illegal campfire and leaving it burning on a windy day caused hundreds of families to lose their homes and forced thousands of others to evacuate. Despite the teachable moment provided by this devastating fire, human activities remain the cause of most wildland fires in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The Forest Service is proud of our record for wildfire suppression. But given the wrong mix of conditions, any one of these fires has the potential to become another Angora.

As we approach the summer after an exceptionally dry winter, I know we’re all a little uneasy. Let’s focus that energy on remembering the hard-taught lessons of Angora and preparing the best we can. As forest supervisor, I’ll be working with our staff to implement forest health and fuels reduction projects. At home, I’ll make sure I’ve done my defensible space, stay alert to fire danger and prepare an emergency plan for my family. I hope you will do the same. Please stay safe this summer.

Nancy Gibson is forest supervisor for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.








About author

This article was written by admin


Comments (8)
  1. dumbfounded says - Posted: June 3, 2012

    Angora demonstrated a failure in planning by our fire agencies despite the incredible amount of money thrown in their general direction. I’m sure that they have learned lessons from the event. But, meanwhile, many citizens lost everything while they were learning. Obviously, the event was not caused by the agencies, however, all the planning did not work when the emergency happened. That is a failure. I hope that it never is allowed to happen again. Enviromentalists must learn to balance their demands with reality, IMHO.

  2. Educate Yourself says - Posted: June 3, 2012

    Hey DUMBfounded, how about some specifics on the information that you have alluded to. What specific plans by what organization failed, and how? How much money was “thrown in their general direction” PRIOR TO the Angora Fire? What was it used on that was a failure? Which plans failed to work once the fire started?

    Lessons are learned in every fire, large and small. Many of the homes saved by firefighters here were saved using lessons learned at other tragedies. And yes, many of the lessons learned from the Angora Fire have been used to save homes in the five years since.

    Hope some of this will help to leave you a little less DUMBfounded.

  3. 4-mer-usmc says - Posted: June 3, 2012

    Prior to the Angora Fire my husband and I took our dog for a walk in the densely forested area between Mule Deer Circle and Elk Point Drive. While they went up there all the time it was the first time I ever had, and the last time. What I remember most was the forest floor being covered with downed trees, rotting wood, etc., that the forest was so thick you couldn’t see more than maybe 8-10 feet in any direction, and that the forest was actually dark so when you looked skyward you couldn’t tell from which direction the sun was coming. My two thoughts were 1) how easy it would be to get lost in there and just walk in circles since you couldn’t see the sun to try and gauge your direction, and 2) if there was ever a fire there would be no way of putting out this tinder box and it would burn everything to the ground and it would burn fast. It wasn’t until after the fire that I saw that Mule Deer and Elk Point actually run parallel to one another for a distance and are located really quite close together.

    I don’t know where the fuels reduction to which Ms. Gibson refers in the burn area took place but it surely wasn’t in that area. While Ms. Gibson says that their “fuels reduction treatment as their first test proved very effective, performing as intended in dropping the fire down to the forest floor and providing firefighters a safer place from which to defend the neighborhoods”, I would venture to guess that the opinions of my neighbors on Mule Deer and Elk Point would likely differ. I guess she must be talking about somewhere other than our area.

    It’s only June 3rd and my “June anxiety attacks” are already starting.

    Spouse of 4-mer-usmc

  4. Steven says - Posted: June 3, 2012

    It seems to me, it doesn’t matter what is done, except for clear cutting the Tahoe Basin, when fire conditions are prime, as they were doing the Angora fire, the fire is going to rage and win. And those conditions are setting up again this June, and now actually. I was shocked this past week when my neighbor was burning in his backyard. I called Lake Valley Fire in Meyers and was told it was legal to burn at the present time. Shocking!, this while everything is bone dry and a hugh fire was just put out in Gardnerville. I was told Lake Valley Fire doesn’t make the rules, just ” controls the fires”? What? Seems to me the local Fire departments should be able to over ride any rules when conditions are bad.

  5. dumbfounded says - Posted: June 3, 2012

    I didn’t start the fire, Educate. Attacking me, personally, will not help to educate anyone. The amount of money that has gone into “fuels managment” and environmental experiments is not my responsibility to define, nor to list. It is obvious that there were failures. Only a fool would try to deny that. But, I have no interest in going back and forth with anyone. As I said “…In My Humble Opinion”. That is it. You may disagree, but personal attacks won’t help anyone. You certainly seem terribly defensive.

  6. Steve Kubby says - Posted: June 3, 2012

    The Angora Fire didn’t start as a control burn, nor were fire reports ignored that day, contrary to eye witness reports. The fear of TRPA fines didn’t keep Angora residents from clearing their homes. The government is blameless and nothing happen. Just move along. Nothing to see here.

  7. 4-mer-usmc says - Posted: June 4, 2012

    Unfortunately the most densely forested areas in the Angora Burn zone were National Forest owned, and the majority of those areas were not thinned or cleaned: not enough money, manpower, or TRPA/League to Save Lake Tahoe/etc., support to do it all. The real culprit in the destruction, aside from the illegal campfire that triggered the onset of the fire, was the wind. Had there been no wind that day there might have been a fighting chance to get that under control; with the way the wind was blowing there was never any hope. From my deck I saw the first thin line of black smoke heading skyward before I even smelled the smoke and immediately thought this was going to be bad because of the wind. I stood and watched to see which way the wind was blowing the smoke and it was coming right at me, and within seconds the embers were already falling on my deck and house. That was before any sirens were heard from the eventual fire crews that were dispatched so it was evident that this fire was spreading fast because of the wind and there would be no stopping it at that point.