SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif., Dec. 10, 2021 – A few weeks ago, a USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) wilderness ranger discovered a very large, illegal campfire near Round Lake in Meiss Country. Meiss Country is a popular backcountry destination south of Lake Tahoe on Highway 89 that receives approximately 50,000 visitors each year. Fortunately, the ranger was able to extinguish the illegal fire before it could spread to the forest and cause another devastating wildfire.

Illegal Campfire in Meiss Country by Andrew Rateaver USFS Wilderness Ranger

Each year, LTBMU wilderness rangers and fire prevention patrols come across hundreds of illegal and abandoned campfires. Many of these fires escape their illegal fire rings and spread into nearby vegetation. Illegal campfires are the leading cause of wildfires in the Lake Tahoe Basin, including the catastrophic Angora Fire in 2007.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, every year human-caused wildfires account for more than 85 percent of all wildfires in the United States. Though some fires are accidental, most of them can be prevented by practicing responsible recreation.

“Every year, preventable wildland fires threaten lives, communities, property and our precious National Forest resources,” said LTBMU Fire Chief, Carrie Thaler. “Fire prevention is everyone’s responsibility. We need the public to do their part by practicing responsible recreation to help eliminate human caused fires and preserve the pristine beauty of our National Forest lands.”

Responsible recreation includes knowing when and where it’s safe to build a campfire or use charcoal. On National Forest lands in the Tahoe Basin, year-round fire restrictions are in effect and restrict wood and charcoal fires to developed campgrounds with provided metal fire rings and grills. Propane appliances with an on/off valve are allowed in all areas with a valid CA Campfire Permit available free of charge at www.readyforwildfire.org/permits/campfire-permit/

Follow these tips to help keep National Forests safe from human caused wildfires:

  • Know Before You Go – Know how to prevent wildfires by properly using outdoor equipment, learning campfire safety, and checking for fire restrictions and closures.
  • Practice Physical Distancing – Give people space – it’s critical to not crowd firefighting efforts. Wildfires are no-drone-zones.
  • Plan Ahead – Know what fire restrictions are in place at your destination, and check if campfires, barbecues, and other flammables are allowed.
  • Play it Safe – From fireworks to camp stoves, understand the potentially explosive nature of your toys and tools and that some of these may be restricted in your location.
  • Explore Locally – Impacts from wildfire can change your travel plans. Have a back-up plan, like close-to-home gems that you have yet to explore.
  • Leave No Trace – Keep your legal campfire small, ensure that it’s out completely and cold to the touch prior to leaving or going to sleep.
  • Build an Inclusive Outdoors – Everyone experiences the outdoors differently, and we can work together to keep our communities safe.

More information about fire prevention can be found at www.smokeybear.com/, www.readyforwildfire.org/ and www.tahoelivingwithfire.com/.