9 Jul 2008, 1:19am
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Bridger Fire fuels distrust of Army: questions linger weeks later

Bridger Fire fuels distrust of Army: Questions linger weeks later

By Peter Roper, Pueblo Chieftan, July 4, 2008 [here]

One sign of the distrust between the Army and the ranchers around the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site is that weeks after the Bridger Fire was extinguished, questions remain about how Fort Carson personnel managed the 48,500-acre fire that burned for two weeks on the training site and spread onto private lands.

“Did they throw all the resources at the fire that they could have? Nobody will know that because in the first days, the Army didn’t tell anybody what was going on,” said Lon Robertson, a Kim-area rancher and president of the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition. “I know people first spotted smoke on the training site on (June 9).”

Robertson also is a firefighter with the Kim volunteer department and he said the rural fire departments at Hoehne, Branson, Springfield and elsewhere rely on each other for help when the summer wildfire season begins.

Robertson and many other ranchers around Pinon Canyon are opposed to the Army’s plan to expand the training area by another 414,000 acres.

Fort Carson officials acknowledge there was a smaller, lightning-caused wildfire on June 9 that their personnel extinguished. Army officials say the Bridger Fire, which eventually would spread to nearly 50,000 acres, began with a lightning strike on the afternoon of June 10, in rugged terrain in the northeastern area of the 238,000-acre maneuver site. “Both of these fires were caused by lightning,” a Fort Carson spokesman emphasized Thursday. “We have not conducted any controlled burns at the training area for some time.”
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3 Jul 2008, 10:48am
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Firefighter Killed In Private Medical Helicopter Collision

by Bill Gabbert, Wildfire Today, July 1, 2008 [here]

Two medical helicopters collided on Sunday while trying to land at the same hospital, killing six, with one of them being a wildland firefighter that had been working on a fire in Grand Canyon National Park.

From the National Park Service Morning Report:

Firefighter Michael MacDonald was tragically killed in a private medical helicopter collision while being transported from the Grand Canyon to a northern Arizona hospital for a medical condition not directly related to firefighting on Sunday, June 29th. Six people, including MacDonald, were killed in the collision of two medical helicopters near Flagstaff Medical Center.

MacDonald, 26, was a member of the Chief Mountain Hot Shots, an elite Bureau of Indian Affairs-funded Native American firefighting crew based on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana. The crew was assigned to the Walla Valley Fire on the North Rim. The Chief Mountain Hot Shot crew will be released from the incident today to travel home.

From the Associated Press:

Two medical helicopters collided Sunday about a half-mile from a northern Arizona hospital, killing six people and critically injuring a nurse, a federal official said. Two emergency workers on the ground were injured after the crash.One of the helicopters was operated by Air Methods out of Englewood, Colo., and the other was from Classic Helicopters of Woods Cross, Utah. Both aircraft were Bell 407 models, said Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration.

After the collision, the helicopters crashed in a wooded area east of Flagstaff Medical Center and started a 10-acre brush fire. An explosion on one of the aircraft after the crash injured two emergency workers who arrived with a ground ambulance company. They suffered minor burns, but their injuries were not life-threatening, authorities said.

“Crazy chaos, just lots of twisted metal wrapped up around people,” Capt. Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the Flagstaff Fire Department, said near the crash site.

Three people on the Air Methods aircraft, including the patient, died. On the Classic helicopter, the pilot, paramedic and patient all died. A flight nurse on the Classic helicopter was in critical condition at Flagstaff Medical Center.

“It’s just a very unfortunate tragedy,” said Matt Stein, a program director and lead pilot with Classic Helicopters subsidiary Classic Lifeguard Aeromedical Services in Page, Ariz.

Stein said his company’s crew was landing at Flagstaff Medical Center carrying a patient with a medical emergency from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

“We’ve been in business 20 years, and these are the first fatalities we’ve experienced,” Stein said. “They were all heroes. They were out doing a great service for their communities.”

Stein said the pilot for Classic was experienced with more than 10,000 hours of flight time. He added that it’s rare for two medical helicopters to attempt to land at a hospital at the same time.

30 Jun 2008, 11:57am
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Calif. firefighters battle more than 1,400 blazes

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The good news in northern California is that more than a thousand wildfires aren’t growing. The bad news: There’s no relief in sight.
No new major fires had broken out Sunday as fire crews inched closer to getting some of the largest of 1,420 blazes surrounded, according to the state Office of Emergency Services. Some 364,600 acres—or almost 570 square miles—have burned.

A “red flag warning”—meaning the most extreme fire danger—was still in effect for Northern California until 8 a.m. EDT Monday. And the coming days and months are expected to bring little relief.

Lower-than-average rainfall and record levels of parched vegetation likely mean a long, fiery summer throughout northern California, according to the Forest Service’s state fire outlook released last week.

The fires burning now were mostly sparked by lightning storms that were unusually intense for so early in the season. But summer storms would probably be even fiercer, according to the Forest Service.

“Our most widespread and/or critical lightning events often occur in late July or August, and we have no reason to deviate from that,” the agency’s report said.

The blazes have destroyed more than 50 buildings, said Gregory Renick, state emergency services spokesman. More than 19,500 firefighters are battling the blazes and 926 helicopters have been used.

A wildfire in the Los Padres National Forest has forced the closure of a scenic stretch of a coastal highway and driven away visitors at the peak of the tourist season.

Air quality districts from Bakersfield to Redding issued health advisories through the weekend, urging residents to stay indoors to limit exposure to the smoky air.

A fire in the Piute Mountain area has burned more than 1,000 acres, causing some small communities to be evacuated, most vacation homes, The Bakersfield Californian reported Monday.

On Saturday, President Bush issued an emergency declaration for California and ordered federal agencies to assist in firefighting efforts. … [more]

22 Jun 2008, 6:38pm
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Forest Service to beef up firefighting ranks

Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer, June 21, 2008

The fast-spreading fire that broke out Friday in Santa Cruz County has put state and federal fire officials on edge as scorching temperatures throughout California threaten to make an already-bad fire season worse.

Firefighters had barely dusted off the soot from last week’s onslaught of fires when this latest blaze raced through bone-dry grassland near Watsonville, quickly burning 500 acres and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

It is the latest in a series of large, destructive fires to break out in Northern California this year, prompting fears that the amount of firefighting equipment and personnel available in the state might be inadequate.

The U.S. Forest Service announced plans Friday to hire additional firefighters to deal with the dangerously incendiary conditions in California.

“We are going to hire every qualified applicant,” said Janice Gauthier, the U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman covering the 18 national forests in California.

Gauthier said the number of seasonal firefighters hired will depend on how many applicants qualify, but she said all of them would be hired next week, ahead of schedule. This last round of hires usually occurs in July, she said.

“The need has become more acute this year because we’ve experienced some early fires and it is in the forefront of people’s minds,” she said. … [more]

22 Jun 2008, 1:50pm
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California fights 400 fires, bakes in heat wave

By Dan Whitcomb, Jun 22, 2008, 11:00 AM

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Firefighters worked to contain some 400 wildfires burning across Northern California on Sunday as the state baked under a fourth day of an early summer heat wave that has strained the power grid and left residents wilted.

One structure was destroyed and 150 homes were evacuated near Fairfield, 40 miles southwest of Sacramento, in the path of the worst of the fires, which blackened more than 3,500 acres in wine-producing Napa County.

“The weather is, of course, very hot and dry here, and this fire quickly rolled up into some extremely steep terrain and became inaccessible. We’re having trouble establishing control lines,” said Battalion Chief David Shew of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

He said the blaze was about 10 percent contained as of Sunday morning and that crews were hoping for a break as triple-digit temperatures began to ease and cooler off-shore breezes returned.

Most of the hundreds of fires scattered across Northern California were started by dry lightning strikes during thunder storms that moved across the state on Friday.

“Those evil clouds are wreaking havoc across the state,” Mike Jarvis, deputy director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said of the dry lightning. “There’s no moisture in them and when they hit it’s not like they put themselves out.”

In a 24-hour period beginning on Friday, some 5,000 to 6,000 dry lightning strikes were recorded across the region, leaving crews scrambling to keep up with spot fires. … [more]

21 Jun 2008, 11:11pm
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Who “sent” Obama?

by Steve Diamond (lawyer, law professor, and political scientist on the faculty of Santa Clara University School of Law in Santa Clara, California) [here]

In Chicago politics a key question has always been, who “sent” you? The classic phrase is “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent” - from an anecdote of Abner Mikva’s, the former White House Counsel (Pres. Clinton) and now retired federal judge. (And someone I campaigned for while in high school when he ran, unsuccessfully, for Congress in the early 70s.) As a young student, Mikva wanted to help out the his local Democratic Party machine on the south side of Chicago. In 1948, he walked into the local committeeman’s office to volunteer for Adlai Stevenson and Paul Douglas and was immediately asked: “Who sent you?” Mikva replied, “nobody sent me.” And the retort came back from the cigar chomping pol: “Well, we don’t want nobody that nobody sent.”

So it is reasonable to ask, who “sent” Barack Obama? In other words, how can his meteoric rise to political prominence be explained? And, of course, in an answer to that question might lie a better understanding of his essential world view. When I started looking at this question a few weeks ago I quickly grew more concerned about the kinds of people that seem to have been very important in Obama’s ascendancy in Chicago area politics. It is the connection of some of these people to authoritarian politics that has me particularly concerned. And a key concern of this blog has been the rise of authoritarian tendencies in the global labor movement.

The people linked to Senator Obama grew to political maturity in the extreme wings of the late 60s student and antiwar movements. They adopted some of the worst forms of sectarian and authoritarian politics. They helped undermine the emergence of a healthy relationship between students and others in American society who were becoming interested in alternative views of social, political and economic organization. In fact, at the time, some far more constructive activists had a hard time comprehending groups like the Weather Underground. Their tactics were so damaging that some on the left thought that government or right wing elements helped create them. There is some evidence, in fact, that that was true (for example, the Cointelpro effort of the federal government.)

Today, however, many of these individuals continue to hold political views that hardened in that period. Many of them have joined up with other wings of the late 60s and 70s movements, in particular the pro-China maoists elements of that era and are now playing a role in the labor movement and elsewhere. And yet this question of Obama’s links to people from this milieu has not been thoroughly explored by any of the many thousands of journalists, bloggers and political operatives looking so closely at Obama. … [more]

20 Jun 2008, 8:14pm
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Ranchers: Fire proves canyon no place for Army


Ranchers opposed to the Army’s planned expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site say the wildfire that has blackened 42,000 acres of the training ground, plus private and state lands, is just a preview of the fire danger that would come from giving the Army more land and heavier weapons to use in the area northeast of Trinidad.

“If this fire had broken out on private land, we’d have gotten on it sooner and knocked it down,” said Lon Robertson, a Kim-area rancher and president of the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition. “Landowners down here know they have to work together to fight fire and they keep a closer eye on their land than the Army does.”

Robertson said the Army’s plan to add another 414,000 acres to the training ground - plus have live artillery fire and other heavy weapons - will only increase the fire danger to surrounding landowners.

“They use heavier weapons in training up at Fort Carson and look how often they have to suppress wildfires up there,” he said. “We don’t need that added danger down here.”

In April, a wildfire that broke out during training maneuvers downrange at Fort Carson burned more than 14 square miles. A contract pilot, Gert Marias, of Fort Benton, Mont., was killed when his single-engine firefighting aircraft crashed in the blaze. A Fort Carson spokesman challenged the ranchers’ claim the Army is unprepared to fight fires at Pinon Canyon.

“We have firefighting personnel at Pinon Canyon and they began fighting the fire when lightning started it on Sunday,” said Doraine McNutt, senior public affairs officer. “They were able to put out a second fire that also was caused by lightning.”

A second group opposing the Army’s expansion plan issued a statement Friday saying the current wildfire is proof of the wildfire dangers of live-fire training at Pinon Canyon. … [more]

20 Jun 2008, 6:12pm
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Washington: Ecoterrorist Sentenced to Six Years

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, June 20, 2008 [here]

A California woman convicted in an ecoterrorism attack at the University of Washington has been sentenced to six years in prison and to pay $6 million in restitution. A Seattle television station, KIRO, reported that the woman, Briana Waters of Berkeley, had asked for mercy because she has a 3-year-old daughter. Prosecutors had recommended a 10-year sentence. Ms. Waters, 32, was sentenced in Federal District Court in Tacoma after being convicted of arson on March 6. She was a student at Evergreen State College in 2001 when she acted as a lookout as others set fire to the Center for Urban Horticulture. The Earth Liberation Front, a loosely organized radical environmental group that has been linked to acts of ecoterrorism in the Northwest, claimed responsibility because it believed, mistakenly, that a researcher was genetically modifying poplar trees. The blaze, which destroyed the plant research center, was one of at least 17 fires set from 1996 to 2001 by the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front. In all, more than a dozen people were arrested; four suspects remain at large.

17 Jun 2008, 11:32pm
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Rural Oregon economy focus of special congress

Illinois Valley News, June 18, 2008 [here]

Rural leaders from across Oregon met Friday, June 13 in Cascade Locks in Columbia River Gorge to plan a different kind of two-day rural conference.

Citizens representing the Oregon coast, S.W. Oregon, north-central Oregon, N.E. Oregon and S.E. Oregon met together for the first time after months of communicating by phone and e-mail. They committed to presenting a thoroughly thought-out and developed Oregon Rural Congress in Cascade Locks on Aug. 21 and 22.

The goal of the Congress is to develop a new way of doing business and functioning in rural Oregon.

“Many of us in rural Oregon have realized that rural communities and interests from across the state must unite and work together,” said Union County Commissioner Colleen MacLeod. “The 2008 Session and Special Session told us that not to do so is no longer an option.”

This first Congress will address five fundamental areas of importance from the perspective of each of eight loosely designated regions of the state. Onno Husing, administrator of the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association said, “We have to get beyond the one-size-fits-all mentality and respect our differences, or we will never solve the increasing problems rural Oregon has. We have to face facts and find ways to change old systems that no longer work.”

Steve Grasty, a Harney County judge, said, “Rural Oregon must be organized if we are to improve the social, economic and environmental challenges in our communities. These challenges have come forward from years of well intentioned but misguided decisions.”

The planning group discussed the structure of the two-day Congress and the creation of a report. “Unlike the ill-fated report of the Office of Rural Policy the planning group will see that the work of the Congress receives wide distribution,” it was stated.

A final planning meeting will be held in S.W. Oregon on July 24. The location will be announced.

16 Jun 2008, 11:02pm
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Timber industry: The last bastion of a healthy forest?

Photo and story by Alicia Knadler, Indian Valley Editor, Plumas County News, June 16, 2008 [here]

Photo: People who know the Wheeler and Moonlight fire areas can easily see that the catastrophic fires were either stopped or extremely reduced in their severity where the forest had been thinned according to treatments prescribed by the Quincy Library Group more than a decade ago.

It’s the timber industry that is the last bastion of a healthy forest, not the environmentalists or the Forest Service – this is what one hears from the residents and other people whose boots are on the ground out there amidst the devastation on the Plumas National Forest.

One such person is timber operator Randy Pew.

He has been sorely tested the past several years by the constant barrage of lawsuits that keep stopping work on the forest.

The most recent decision, made by San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Judge John T. Noonan, effectively shuts down the thinning needed to prevent more catastrophic fires, like the Wheeler and Moonlight wildfires of 2007.

The forests have become clogged with fuel for wildfires since the spotted owl icon brought logging almost to a screeching halt more than a decade ago.

And now, by the time loggers can get into a burned area to clean it up, it’s almost too late to get the job done safely, and it’s too late to harvest any real value out of the timber.

On the Storrie Fire, for example, timber operators finally got the go-ahead from the Forest Service in the third summer after the fire.

But workers had to quit toward the end of the summer, because the dead trees were falling apart by then and too dangerous to work under.

Will the same thing happen in the area of the Moonlight and Wheeler wildfire areas?

It seems so. … [more]

13 Jun 2008, 12:31am
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Did thick brush, environmental concerns worsen Martin Fire?

By PAUL ROGERS - Santa Cruz Sentinel, 06/12/2008 [here]

State officials attempted to clear brush two years ago on the piece of land a where a fire now raging in Santa Cruz County began, but much of the work was delayed and ultimately not finished because of opposition from two local environmental groups.

The fire began in an area of sandstone outcroppings known as “Moon Rocks” on the 550-acre Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve, commanders for Cal Fire confirmed. The reserve, an ancient seabed famed for its rare plants and trees, has not had a significant fire since 1948. As a result, dead trees and brush were piled high.

“It’s like the whole reserve was full of gasoline,” said Angela Petersen, vegetation management program coordinator for the forestry department’s San Mateo-Santa Cruz region.

The Moon Rocks area is well-known among locals as a hangout for teenagers, college students and star-gazers. Neighbors have complained for years about loud parties, illegal bonfires and litter.

In 2003, Petersen worked with biologists from the California Department of Fish and Game, which owns the reserve, to draw up a plan to thin the reserve using chain saws and controlled burns. They won an $80,000 federal grant to fund the work.

For three years, however, the Bonny Doon community was split. Some local residents welcomed the work. Others slowed the effort, Petersen said, by requesting numerous studies and monitoring.

“They said we didn’t have enough information to know how our activities were going to affect the listed and sensitive plants,” Petersen said. “They said by doing anything we could open up the area to invasive species.”

Two environmental groups, the California Native Plant Society’s Santa Cruz chapter and the Sandhills Alliance for Natural Diversity, raised the most objections.
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24 May 2008, 10:57pm
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Viejas, Ewiiaapaayp Tribes Team with Forest Service to Create Firebreaks in San Diego’s East County


The U.S. Forest Service has teamed up with the Viejas and Ewiiaapaayp (WEE-ah-pie) Indian tribes to clear land and create firebreaks east of the San Diego County community of Alpine.

At a news conference today announcing the effort, large masticators were used to chop up dense brush that has built up over decades, creating a potentially dangerous fuel source for future wildfires. Approximately 97 acres will be cleared south of I-8 off of Alpine Boulevard. Different portions of the land are owned by the Ewiiaapaayp tribe, the federal government and private property owners.

This marks the first time that land in southern California has been cleared for firebreaks under the Tribal Fire Protection Act of 2004. The Act encourages the federal government and Native American tribes to coordinate efforts to create firebreaks and conduct other land management practices on federal lands adjacent to tribally-owned lands.

Viejas Tribal Councilmember Alan Barrett, who testified before Congress in support of the legislation, stated: “This continues a positive inter-governmental relationship our tribes have established with the U.S. Forest Service and local governments, as well as area property owners. Past experience has taught us that wildfires know no boundaries, so it’s important that we all work together for the greater good of our communities.”
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23 May 2008, 2:44pm
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Two prescribed fires set at just the wrong time

By Tom Beal, ARIZONA DAILY STAR, 5/23/08 [here]

Two fires, one burning out of control on the slopes of Mount Graham in Eastern Arizona and another on grasslands in southwest New Mexico, were deliberately set by Coronado National Forest fire managers Tuesday despite “red flag” warnings posted for the following day.

Red-flag conditions — a combination of high temperatures, wind, low humidity and dry fuels — made the Frye Mesa and Whitmire fires hard to stop once they escaped the perimeters of the U.S. Forest Service’s prescribed burn.

The flames forced the Forest Service to close the main road up Mount Graham Thursday, and the popular camping and fishing area might stay closed for the Memorial Day weekend. By Thursday night the Frye Mesa fire had burned about 3,100 acres.

When the Forest Service set fire Tuesday to the brush on Frye Mesa, in the foothills of Mount Graham, the National Weather Service had predicted high winds that afternoon and a red-flag warning for severe fire weather the following day.

“We strongly discouraged them from starting it,” said Bill Turner, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Tucson office. “We had red-flag criteria everywhere.”

The weather service’s Storm Prediction Center had labeled one small area of the United States as “extremely critical” for fire outlook on Wednesday. Frye Mesa and an area on the New Mexico border, where the Forest Service lit the Whitmire Fire, were both in that area. …

[Retired fire manager Larry] Humphrey said the Forest Service will be paying a high price for removal of sweet resin bush on Frye Mesa.

“You could’ve hired a blind man with a hoe and a backpack to go out and grub it out of there for a lot less money than this fire’s gonna cost,” he said. … [more]

22 May 2008, 12:49am
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Staffing for fires worries senator

by Jason Pesick, Staff Writer, Redlands Daily Facts

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is concerned the U.S. Forest Service has too many firefighter vacancies heading into the fire season.

A letter to Feinstein from Mark Rey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary who oversees the Forest Service, shows that there are 363 vacancies in Southern California out of 4,432 positions.

Feinstein, D-Calif., said she is concerned that many of the vacancies are among midlevel firefighters.

“These are key fire leadership positions. Without them, some fire engines might sit idle just when they’re needed most. This is unacceptable. We simply cannot afford anything less than a fully staffed firefighting corps in California,” she said in a statement.

Casey Judd, business manager for the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association, said that Rey, in his letter, backed off from an April 1 commitment to Feinstein that all positions would be staffed in time for the start of the state’s fire season.

“I want to reiterate that we feel … we have the resources to meet our firefighting mission this year,” said Jason Kirchner, a spokesman for the Forest Service’s California region. … [more]

22 May 2008, 12:11am
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Forest Service is seeking input on restoring Angora burn area

by Adam Jensen, Tahoe Daily Tribune, May 21, 2008 [here]

Amid banging hammers and the hum of construction equipment, Diana Freeman noticed a short, bright-green growth sticking up near some rocks and a small, slightly faded U.S. flag in her front yard.

“My tulips are coming back,” Freeman exclaimed gleefully. “I just noticed those.”

In April, Freeman and her husband, Stan, were among the first people who lost homes in last summer’s Angora fire to move back into the area.

While much of the forest surrounding the home on Pyramid Court still is an anemic patchwork of black, brown and green, Stan Freeman is persistently upbeat about the recovery of the neighborhoods burned by the Angora fire.

“It’s going to be phenomenal in a few years, and I hope everyone knows that,” Stan Freeman said.

Like many of the homes in the Angora burn area, U.S. Forest Service land runs behind the Freemans’ backyard.

How the thousands of acres of federal land burned by the Angora fire will experience a resurgence of life similar to the Freeman’s front yard is the topic of an open house this week.

“We want to hear from the community how they want the area affected by the Angora fire to look in the next 10 to 50 years,” U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Cheva Heck said in a statement. “We will be looking at options for replanting, reducing fuels, reconstructing stream channels, restoring meadow and streambank vegetation, and providing access for recreation through our roads and trails.”

Angora Fire Restoration Open House
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Lake Tahoe Community College Boardroom, 1 College Drive, South Lake Tahoe
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