Officials Press for Tahoe Fire Plan

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An emergency evacuation plan for the Lake Tahoe Basin is needed to try to minimize the human toll of a major wildfire or other disaster, officials said.

Narrow streets, tinder-dry forests and few escape routes around Lake Tahoe spell potential disaster if a large fire breaks out, a legislative committee was told Monday.

"My concern is we may be running out of luck," said state Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas.

Panel members said the urgency for a plan became clear after last month's Waterfall fire in Carson City that destroyed 17 homes and burned 8,700 acres.

About 62,000 people live in the Tahoe Basin that straddles the Nevada-California line in the eastern Sierra and draws thousands of visitors on any given day.

"Waterfall has just really brought it to a head for us," said Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, and chairman of the committee that oversees the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

"I think we do need a basinwide plan and we do need to stay on task to get that done."

Fire concerns raised by the committee echoed those expressed earlier this month by federal, state and local officials during an annual forum on Lake Tahoe held at Incline Village.

"We're on borrowed time," Steve Robinson, natural resources adviser to Gov. Kenny Guinn, said at the time.

Hettrick on Monday asked John Singlaub, TRPA executive director, to investigate the cost of hiring a consultant to prepare an evacuation strategy.

Fire and other Nevada public safety officials say they're working on a plan but that the effort will require more funding and coordination with communities on the California side of the lake.

Planning for the worst is a huge undertaking, officials said.

"Roadways would be clogged in no time at all," said Jim Lopey, assistant sheriff for Washoe County.

Lopey said some evacuations might be by boat. And in many cases, officials said, people might be ordered to shelter in an open spot such as a large parking lot rather than try to leave a threatened area by road or highway.

"Accomplishing that mission in the Tahoe Basin strikes me as a phenomenal challenge," said state Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City. "There's not much margin for error."

Douglas County officials plan a drill on Friday to test its evacuation plan for the upscale community of Glenbrook on Tahoe's east shore, where towering trees and thick underbrush combined with twisting, narrow roads would make firefighting efforts difficult.

The gated community of about 500 homes was recognized in 2001 as a "high hazardous" fire zone by the Nevada Division of Forestry. In response, the Glenbrook Project, a nonprofit agency, was formed and received a grant to make the community less prone to catastrophic fire.

Safety plans include building 300 feet of defensible space around the community, clearing brush and other fuels and educating residents about fire prevention and preparedness.

Up to 400 residents are expected to participate in the drill, officials said.