Flowers grow in previously burned areas

July 30, 2009 6:59:18 PM PDT
Nature is putting on a fabulous flower show in parts of the Lake Tahoe region right now. But, the same conditions creating the floral spectacle also have firefighters concerned.

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In June, 2007, the Angora Fire swept through South Lake Tahoe. More than 250 homes burned along with more than 3,000 acres of land. A year later, the summer building season was in full swing, with burned-out residents racing to finish their homes before winter.

This summer, a full two years after the fire, about 180 homes are finished with several more expected to be done soon. But, restoring the natural environment will take a lot longer.

"It's completely different than what it used to be," local resident Ruben Alarcon told ABC7.

Alarcon often hikes the area where the Angora Fire started, on U.S. Forest Service land.

"You see a lot of areas that have gone by the wayside that you used to really enjoy walking through and seeing. And, at the same time you start enjoying the new beauty that's coming out," he said.

The fire is believed to have been started by an illegal campfire near a big rock a few hundred yards from a popular pond. Last year, there was little new growth there. This year, there is an explosion of wildflowers.

"It's phenomenal. I went out to Seneca Pond where the fire started and I could not believe all of the growth that had come through there," said Tom Burkart with the Fallen Leaf Fire Department. "It was hard to tell in some spots that the fire was even there."

The Forest Service has removed many of the dead trees. Many more, marked with blue paint, are scheduled to be cut down later. The logging is controversial. But for the moment, it is the dazzling show of flowers that has locals talking.

"It seems that since a lot of the canopy of the trees has burned down and trees were taken down, it's allowing the sun to come in. And, so a lot of the seeds that have been on the ground for years are now germinating," Alarcon explained.

The Forest Service says another reason the flowers are doing so well is that fire releases beneficial nutrients into the soil. Now, the challenge is to make sure the plants that thrive are plants that are good for the environment.

Rex Norman with the Forest Service says, "We have to be really careful about noxious types of weeds, plants that are not native to this area."

Weeds are not the only concern. This year, the Tahoe Basin had a particularly wet spring followed by a cool beginning to the summer. Those conditions have helped create stunning scenes near places like Fallen Leaf Lake, south of Lake Tahoe. But, soon it will be a different picture.

"You got great, tall green grass now, but in a couple more weeks, it's going to be tall, brown grass. What was 2-foot high is now 3-foot high, and therefore it's going to make extreme fire danger later this season," Burkart said.

Firefighters say it is critical to follow the rules wherever you are. Many state parks allow fires only in fire rings and on grills, and permits are required to build a fire on any national forest land.

So, enjoy the flowers, but do not forget the high fire danger that comes with them.

"We are in that condition now and will be probably until the first snow," said Burkart.

Federal, state and local officials are still working out the details of a $200 million program they are planning, to improve conditions in the forests around Lake Tahoe over the next 10 years.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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