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KUNR Youth Media talks to a forester in Tahoe on wildfire preparation

The sky is red and there's smoke coming from behind a silhouetted tree. There is a firefighting person standing in a truck facing the smoke.
Courtesy of InciWeb
The Caldor Fire burning southwest of Lake Tahoe in August, 2021.

Last year, the Caldor Fire forced more than 20,000 people in South Lake Tahoe to evacuate. Ultimately, more than 1,000 structures were burned as the fire swept across nearly 222,000 acres. KUNR Youth Media reporter Ashton Taylor looks into what residents across the Tahoe region can do to protect their homes from future wildfires.

April Shackelford is a forester at the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District. She oversees fuels prevention programs in the northern Lake Tahoe area.

“When we get [fire] starts that are not immediately contained, then fire hits that fuel load, and those fires become bigger, more severe, and more destructive, and leading to bigger environmental impacts, as well as impact on communities,” Shackelford said.

She also discussed the recent change in wildfire behavior.

“It’s fewer, bigger fires, rather than having a lot of small fires burning in a lot of different areas,” Shackelford said.

Many people at risk of wildfires in their area have a lot of questions about how they can prevent fires and how they can stay safe in case something goes wrong.

“It’s very important to be prepared for the wildfire season in terms of having your home prepared with defensible space,” Shackelford said.

Fuels prevention is the practice of removing flammable materials from around houses and residential areas, so that it is easier to fight fires in the area. This is the same concept that supports prescribed burns in dense areas of foliage. Shackelford noted the importance of eradicating dangerous materials from high-risk areas.

“That means, not having any vegetation that is at all flammable in the 0-5 feet zone of your house, so everywhere from the structural wall, to 5 feet, is clear of any debris that would burn with any intensity," Shackelford said.

So now the question emerges: How can we as civilians prepare for wildfires in our area?

“The biggest thing anybody can do is knowing their evacuation plan, so knowing what they are individually going to do, including what items they are going to take out of their home in an emergency,” Shackelford said.

With the intensity of wildfires only growing over the past years, it will be increasingly important to have a plan in the face of potential disaster.

Ashton Taylor is a reporter for KUNR Youth Media and a senior at Galena High School. KUNR Youth Media special partnership with the Washoe County School District and Report for America to train the next generation of journalists.

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