Fire restrictions for busy Fourth of July weekend and beyond

Ashleigh Goodwin /
Fire districts at Lake Tahoe.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — June 24 marked the 15-year anniversary of the Angora Fire. The 2007 wildfire destroyed approximately 250 homes and more than 50 structures due to an illegal campfire.

The campers believed they put out the illegal fire, but hot embers were left behind.

Public affairs specialist with the USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Lisa Herron, said, “Solid fuels need to be extinguished. When not properly put out the embers can retain heat for days and pose a risk of reigniting.”

When high winds picked up, shortly before Fourth of July weekend, the abandoned embers from the illegal fire pit reignited and rapidly spread throughout the subdivision near Upper Truckee Road. The fire was contained on July 2, 2007. Prior to containment the fire raged for eight days. Nearly 3,500 acres and over $150 million dollars were lost due to the illegal blaze. 

As residents recovered from the unfortunate, yet avoidable, situation, local fire districts assembled a commission within the basin to structure changes and protections against similar situations in the future. 

“We realized we needed to step up our fuels reduction efforts,” Herron said.  “Since then, collaboratively the basin’s municipalities have thinned 89,000 acres of forest creating more defensible space.”

Additionally, necessary precautions have been set in place by way of restrictions, warnings, and prohibited areas with regards to fires at Lake Tahoe. There is a complicated layering of jurisdictions within the basin including local, state, and federal lands. Despite minimal differences between the way the they handle fire restrictions, all districts within the basin have guidelines in place from June 1 until much later in the fall depending on weather and conditions of the fuels. 

Federal land, national forest land and state parks have fire restrictions in effect currently in both states bordering Lake Tahoe.

Neither wood or charcoal fires are permitted on beaches or day use areas. Over the past 10 years the LTBMU have systemically removed metal rings and barbecues from day use areas.

“We would like to encourage the use of portable stoves that have an on off switch for safety,” Herron said. “Charcoal and wood must be extinguished and leave debris behind which as the potential to get into the lake.”

In the last seven years over 350 wildfires were recorded in the Tahoe Basin, illegal or unattended campfires to blame for approximately 80% of them.

While portable stoves are encouraged, permits are still required in order to have an open flame. The permit, honored in California and Nevada, is called California Fire Permit and can be obtained online and printed after watching a fire safety video.

California State parks and National Forest land do allow fires in provided metal rings and grills within campgrounds. State parks and National Forest land areas currently offering metal rings and grills include D.L Bliss, Sugar Pine Point, and Burton Creek, Nevada Beach, Fallen Leaf, Meeks Bay, William Kent and Caspian Campgrounds.  Zephyr Cove, Camp Richardson and Meeks Bay Resort are also restricted to wood and charcoal only within the designated metal rings and grills within the permit-required camping resorts. 

North Tahoe Fire District, and Meeks Bay fire districts. The area from Nevada Stateline in Kings Beach to Emerald Bay has a complete ban of solid fuels for outside fires from June 1 through November, depending on weather and fuel patterns. Gas, propane, and pellet stoves are allowed as the fuel does not leave remnants behind that retain heat as long as there is not a Red Flag warning issued. 

Fire restrictions are for everyone including private property owners, renters and visitors. Restrictions are defined by local districts and municipalities such as city of South Lake Tahoe. Generally, within the seven districts around the basin, wood/charcoal/firepits are not prohibited during fire restriction due to potential fire dangers if not extinguished correctly. However, locals in the Tahoe Douglas Fire district can request for an inspection to potentially allow wood and charcoal fires on private property. Unless restricted liquid petroleum gas, natural gas, propane, and pellet fire pits/grills are excellent, safe options that reduce waste and keep the Basin safe from wildfire. 

Regardless of the fuel, or location in the basin, open flames are strictly prohibited during red flag warnings. According to LTBMU, A Red Flag Warning means that critical fire weather conditions are happening. Weather conditions can consist of strong winds, low humidity, warm temperatures, or a combination of such. All can contribute to extreme fire behavior. Be aware of the fire warnings in your area and always follow the instructions provided by local emergency officials. To learn more about these instructions visit: 

Red flag warnings are advised by the National Weather service fire weather website. Both locations in Reno and Sacramento report on the fire conditions within the Lake Tahoe Basin. Facebook and Twitter are often updated with the fire status for the day, each day.

Herron advised that a partnership between The Tahoe Fund and the USDA are preparing billboards for the multiple entrances into the Basin. All who are in the basin, residents and tourists, should know that “It’s no longer fire season, it’s year-round.”

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