Weekend campers cope with fire ban | SierraSun.com

Weekend campers cope with fire ban

Jeff Clemetson, Sierra Sun

For the first time in seven years, the U.S. Forest Service banned campfires at its campsites in the Tahoe National Forest. The ban on campground campfires on Aug. 30 extended the ban on fires in the wilderness that began in June.

“We haven’t seen conditions this dry since 1975,” said Truckee Ranger District public information officer Diane Minutilli.

The campfire ban came in the wake of investigators finding signs that the Bear Fire was likely started from an abandoned campfire.

“How many more wildfires do we need to have before people realize that the situation is very serious?” said Joanne Roubique, district ranger in Truckee.

An illegal campfire is also believed to be the cause of the 12,900-acre Star Fire that is still burning. And an illegal fire was proved to be the cause of the Gap Fire that burned 2,462 acres.

The ban on campfires was enacted just in time for the Labor Day weekend when many campers fill Tahoe’s campgrounds. Despite the ban on fires, most campers understood the situation, Minutilli said. “Some even wondered why we didn’t do it sooner.”

“They’re disappointed but they’re understanding – not complaining, yelling or that nonsense,” said Shirman Gilson, camp host at the Granite Flat campground. Gilson said he had to extinguish two fires over the weekend.

Although about 95 percent were compliant with the ban, there were at least 10 citations given for illegal fires over the weekend, Minutilli said. According to a press release issued by the Tahoe National Forest, violating the campfire ban could result in a fine “not more than $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization or imprisonment for not more than six months or both.”

Minutilli said the Forest Service is monitoring campgrounds and remote areas with plane flights every morning and evening.

The ban on fires will most likely extend into hunting season, Minutilli said, although the busy camping season ended after Labor Day. She said the Forest Service would not lift the ban until Tahoe gets at least two inches of rain, which it doesn’t expect until late October.