2020 has been an interesting year. Not only do we continue to live through the COVID-19 pandemic, but we have faced historically large wildfires. As of October, CalFire reported over 4.1 million acres burned across the state (CNN.com, October 17, 2020). For comparison, 4.1 million acres is larger than the entire state of Connecticut!  Truckee has been fortunate to only experience the regional-smoke effects of wildfires in recent years. However, town limits include an abundance of natural vegetation that makes Truckee vulnerable to wildfires. To keep Truckee safe, local agencies have taken it upon themselves to prepare our community in the event such a disaster were to occur close to home.

In summer 2020, the Town of Truckee, in coordination with the Truckee Fire Protection District and the Tahoe Donner Association, made a goal to make Truckee’s largest subdivision more fire resilient.  The Tahoe Donner subdivision includes approximately 6,500 properties and more than 60 centerline miles of roadways. From a roadside maintenance perspective that’s actually 120 miles of road! Wow! The subdivision is built on one of the hills surrounding the Interstate 80 corridor in Truckee and has the typical dense forest vegetation that draws so many to the area. As we have all come to realize, with the recent wildfires that have overtaken nearby communities, wildfires can move very quickly through dense forest and burn very hot. This makes clearing and creating safe evacuation routes extremely important.

During the summer months, the Town of Truckee Public Works Department typically carries out routine maintenance of the public right-of-way, including minor vegetation removal, roadway crack filling, paving, pavement markings, roadway signage, stormwater drainage maintenance, and numerous other responsibilities. As you can imagine, adding 120 miles of roadside vegetation maintenance to the Public Works crews’ busy summer schedule was not feasible. To accomplish the task, the Town brought on two experienced vegetation maintenance contractors, and completed roadway vegetation maintenance for the entire Tahoe Donner subdivision.

This project was no small task and consisted of brush clearing and tree removal services in the Town right-of-way within 15 feet of the paved roadway along all 120 miles of roadside in Tahoe Donner. Ultimately, this project increased fire resiliency by:

  • increasing the effectiveness of fire evacuation routes by removing combustible material away from the roadway
  • increasing natural firebreaks that roadways provide where limited vegetation is located
  • removing a total of 1,292 tons of green waste

There were several roadway functionality benefits that also resulted from the vegetation removal, which include improved roadside safety by removing obstructions, and increased snow storage in the public right-of-way.

Plans to perform similar roadway vegetation maintenance in other parts of Truckee are actively in the works for the coming years and will help the entire community become more fire resilient!

By: Scott Mathot, Associate Civil Engineer

Video: tree falling in Tahoe Donner during roadway vegetation project