The South Lake Tahoe Fire Department and Police Department responded to a fire at Pioneer Trail and April Drive on the evening of September 18th. Upon arrival, they saw that two homes were fully engulfed with nearby trees also on fire. Recognizing the threat of this fire spreading into the nearby forest, Shift Commander Karl Koeppen asked for immediate response by many local responders. Off duty Shift Commander Rob Hembree responded to coordinate requests with other agencies and maintain “coverage” in the City of South Lake Tahoe. Firefighter-Paramedic Chris Anaya arrived first and provided the initial “size-up” which helped everyone understand the seriousness of the situation. Arriving Fire Captain Jon Anderson quickly saw that other fire engines involved in the early firefight were not tied in to the fire hydrants. Knowing that they would quickly run out of water, he ordered responders to lay a 5” line to a fire hydrant which provided water to multiple fire engines. Ultimately, more than 80 Fire Fighters and 26 Law Enforcement personnel responded to the scene.
Community members were very understanding and supportive during the event. This support was shown in many ways but a few examples include:
1. One citizen who dropped off early video of the event (which will be valuable in the follow-on investigation)
2. Patience regarding the traffic closures, which lasted several hours
3. Cooperative neighbors during the evacuation
4. Pronto Pizza showing-up with numerous pizzas for the responders without being asked
5. Citizen’s dropping off needed refreshments
6. Many expressions of appreciation
7. Numerous offers to help
Fire officials in the Lake Tahoe area have authored a document called the “Basin Chiefs’ Agreement.” Under this agreement, area fire responders go to the scene of a fire, when requested, free of charge, for the first 24 hours. Clearly, it is in the public’s best interests to extinguish fires as quickly as possible—this agreement allows for these resources to roll to the scene with minimal “red tape.”
On the law enforcement side, when Officer in Charge Aaron Crawford arrived, he immediately asked for additional assistance. El Dorado County and CHP quickly deployed personnel who assisted with evacuation and traffic control in the area. South Lake Tahoe Officer Ross Molesworth and El Dorado County Deputy Damien Frisby helped one burn victim, who was trying to stop the blaze with a garden hose, by escorting from his porch. The early action to control traffic and on-lookers allowed for the immediate area to be clear enough for the responding fire departments to have room to park vehicles and lay fire hoses.
The dispatchers in the South Lake Tahoe Communications Center recognized that the event could easily become overwhelming. At the request of dispatch Supervisors Sue Keast and Kory Falkner, off-duty dispatchers Linda Clark and Melissa Dube responded to the dispatch center and helped request and coordinate area responders. This aspect is critically important because delays in making such requests could literally cause a fire to “get away” from us by not having sufficient fire-fighting resources soon enough.
The following agencies contributed to the successful outcome:
Agency Number of Responders
South Lake Tahoe Fire 17
Lake Valley Fire 9
US Forest Service 8 plus 20 person “hand crew”
Tahoe-Douglas Fire 10
Fallen Leaf Fire 5
Carson City Fire 4
East Fork Fire 5
Eastern Alpine Fire 4
South Lake Tahoe Police 9
El Dorado County Sheriff 12
Off Duty San Rafael Fire 1
• These numbers do not include “back-fill” that was necessary to cover depleted areas.