Lake Tahoe forest officials seeing increase in illegal campfires |

Lake Tahoe forest officials seeing increase in illegal campfires

Laney Griffo
Special to the Sierra Sun

Tahoe National Forest and U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit have seen an increase in illegal and abandoned campfires this summer.

Despite campfire restrictions being put in place on May 29, Tahoe National Forest employees have responded to the second highest number of calls about escaped fires ever. Since that date, wildlands firefighters have responded to 19 escaped fires, fires that are left unattended and burn adjacent areas.

“These numbers only account for statistical escaped campfires,” said Eli Ilano, Tahoe National Forest Supervisor in a press release. “Firefighters, recreation managers, and other Tahoe National Forest employees have also taken action on approximately 75 unattended, illegal campfires outside of designated recreation sites. These are campfires that have been left burning with the possibility of immediate escape into the forest. Drastic numbers such as these greatly increase the potential for large, destructive wildfires.”

The basin is particularly susceptible to wildfires right now, with several popping up this last week. The National Weather Service has issued several red flag warnings the past week as well making it more important than ever for visitors to adhere to campfire rules and restrictions.

“In California, about 95% of wildfires are human caused and many are the result of escaped campfires. We need our visitors, now more than ever, to practice responsible recreation. This starts by following campfire restrictions,” said Ilano.

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has seen a similar increase in abandoned campfires and an increase in illegal camping.

They’ve seen issues in the general forest and in areas along trails systems, trailheads and parking areas as well as an increase in illegal BBQ use at beaches and other recreation areas.

“Our biggest challenge has been the massive influx of people not honoring social distancing or fire restrictions and a lot of illegal camping and overnighting in the forest,” said LTBMU Fire Prevention Officer Olivia Rahman in an email. “It’s crazy out there.”

Campfires (wood and charcoal) are not allowed in Desolation Wilderness or Meiss Country; along the Tahoe Rim Trail or Genoa Peak Road; in rock fire rings; on National Forest beaches; or in the general forest. Fires are allowed within metal fire rings or provided metal grills in developed campgrounds with an onsite host, such as Fallen Leaf or Nevada Beach.

Outside of developed campgrounds, visitors can still use portable pressurized liquid or gas devices (stoves, grills or lanterns) with shut-off valves with a valid California Campfire Permit.

Punishment for illegal fires include a fine up to $5,000 or up to six months imprisonment.

LTBMU encourages the public to report illegal campfire activity with a detailed description of the area and by providing GPS or latitude/longitude coordinates. If an illegal campfire is still burning, smoldering or has hot coals, the public should immediately call 911.

Cold illegal fires can be reported using the “Contact Us” form at

“Help us prevent illegal campfires by sharing this information with your family and friends,” said LTBMU Public Affairs Specialist, Lisa Herron in an email. “Together, we can help keep our beautiful mountain home safe from unwanted wildland fires.”

Laney Griffo is a Staff Writer for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at

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