Lessons from the Caldor Fire: A Fuels Treatment Legislative Tour

Erica Backhus

Erica Backhus

Government and Community Affairs Assistant

This past August, SBC had the opportunity to attend the California Tahoe Alliance’s legislative tour in South Lake Tahoe. This tour brought together members of different Tahoe-based organizations and businesses as well as legislative staffers from Sacramento to take an in-depth look at the Caldor fire burn scar and environmental impacts from the Tahoe Keys and other contributing polluters to Lake Tahoe. 

The day began with a walking tour through the expansive Caldor Fire burn scars in the backyards of homes in Meyers, CA. Many houses within these neighborhoods had the powerful flames come within spitting distance of their properties, yet not a single home was lost. South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue Chief Rescue Jim Drennan attests that this was due to a combination of forest and fuels management, adequate water resources, and luck. “Much of the immediate forest surrounding the homes had been treated by fuels thinning in the last 10-15 years,” stated Chief Drennan. “When a forest is at a healthy density, you should be able to see through it, and luckily that is what we witnessed in the neighborhoods in Meyers. 

Tahoe Alliance Legislative tour - group of people stand talking and looking at Caldor Fire burn scar
Legislative Staffers and California Tahoe Alliance members tour the Caldor burn scar in Meyers

The other key factor to ensuring the protection of homes in Meyers was the immediate access to water through fire hydrants. While this may seem obvious, Chief Drennan explained to us that many of the Tahoe neighborhoods are equipped only with 2 inch water mains, rather than the standard 8 inch that allows connection directly to a fire hydrant. For example, when the Angora fire hit South Lake Tahoe in 2007, the neighborhoods directly threatened were only equipped with the 2 inch infrastructure, resulting in the loss of 242 homes. “If we had direct access to fire hydrants through the 8 inch water main infrastructure, our likelihood of saving more homes would have drastically increased,” stated Chief Drennan. The transition from 2 inch water mains to 8 inches comes at a cost, however, coming in at roughly $1 million per mile. 

The Caldor Fire is a perfect example of wildfire and water infrastructure funding coming to life. Without the previous forest thinning and immediate access to fire hydrants, the outcome for homes in Meyers would have likely looked much different. By highlighting real life scenarios like the Caldor Fire, CTA members provided legislators and staffers with a simple ask: As the California wildfire season continues to become more prolonged and extreme, an increase in preventional forest management and updated water infrastructure is mandatory. We know what is effective in preventing these devastating burns, it is time that we start acting on it and treating it as the crisis it is. 

Photo of South Lake Tahoe outdated rusted pipe in comparison with needed upgrades, Caldor burn scar in background
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