Novak: Not just another wildfire
Having spent 37 years in the fire service, one might think I should be immune to images of wildfires raging out of control, evacuated communities and homes lost. As a resident of South Lake Tahoe for nearly 25 years, the recent images of the Caldor Fire threatening South Lake Tahoe bring many thoughts.
Are family friends OK? How many houses will be destroyed? What will the quality of life be like after the fire?
It also brings back memories of the Angora Fire of 2007 in which the same community lost 254 homes in a single afternoon. Although I have many memories of the firefight that day, the most personal memories are of the initial worries.
While I was working to save homes, I was also trying to make sure that my daughter who was camping with her Girl Scout Troop was safely evacuated and that the rest of my family had safely evacuated from the beach that was directly in the path of the fire.
The home that our family lived in for 18 years is currently under mandatory evacuation orders. When I look at the images of the Caldor Fire, I don’t just see flames, I imagine the many backcountry ski lines, hiking and biking trails that will never be the same. Yes, the trails will eventually be rehabilitated, but the experience will never be the same.
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The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
Although these memories are still very vivid, fires such as the Caldor make me think: How long do we have? As I speak with community members here about the threat of wildfires, many have asked, “Do we have fires here?” Or they listen intently and then say, “Yeah but that couldn’t happen here.”
We would do well to learn from South Lake Tahoe. When I moved there in 1990, the perception was much the same. Fires were infrequent and when they did occur, they were small, and homes were not destroyed. In the Colorado Rockies, we are seeing many of the same trends the Sierra Nevada began to see 15 years ago. Dryer winters, less summer rain, more wildfires, more destruction in our communities.
It is important to realize how rapidly a distant wildfire can threaten our community. In the case of the Caldor Fire threatening South Lake Tahoe, imagine a wildfire starting in Carbondale, Rifle or McCoy and eventually threatening Vail. Wildfire is no longer a force that impacts one community at a time.
If the destruction of the wildfire itself is not enough, the impacts to the economy and the community are far reaching. Currently every national forest in California is closed. When I tell people this, they ask, “What do you mean the forest is closed?” During a forest closure it is illegal to be on U.S Forest Service lands, which includes hiking on trails, driving on roads or fishing in streams.
During my time in Vail, I have been passionate about sharing my first-hand observations about the importance of wildfire mitigation, be it forest thinning, defensible space, or ignition resistant construction. I care deeply about the trees, our homes, our recreational opportunities, the natural beauty of our valley and, most of all, the people who call Vail home.
More information on wildfire can be found at VailGov.com/government/departments/fire/wildfire or by calling 970-477-3475.
Vail Fire and Emergency Services Chief Mark Novak has served the Vail community since 2015.