NEVADA CITY, Calif. August 16, 2018 – An undercover operation by State Parks and Nevada County Consolidated Fire District put a halt to the “Fort Resort” operating as a vacation rental in the South Yuba River canyon – on public land. The camp – located upstream from Purdon Crossing on State Parks land – came to the attention of the Nevada County Treasurer-Tax Collector who shared the information with the Sheriff’s Office. They in turn reached out to Matt Green, the Chief Ranger for State Parks’ Sierra District.
After learning of the situation, Green and his rangers worked with Nevada County Consolidated Fire Officers to develop a plan that included booking the site through a prepaid visa, creating a private email account and eventually setting an appointment with the suspect.
Nevada County Consolidated Fire Marshal Terry McMahon and Chief Jim Turner posed as undercover renters, a first for McMahon. “Plainclothes operations is something we don’t typically do, ” said McMahon. “But State Parks is shorthanded and they needed to take care of this. It was great working with them, all these folks are really good people. Cooperation is so important down in the canyon.”
McMahon and Chief Turner met with the suspect who gave them the grand tour of the camp. The “amenities” included fire rings, a rock outdoor kitchen and several honey buckets for sanitation.
August 17, 2018 at 8:20 AM Clarification: Terry McMahon and a State Parks ranger were the undercover decoys. Matt Green credits his primary officer for planning the details of the operation, executed by jointly by the two law enforcement officers.
The tour did however not end as the “landlady” expected. State Parks rangers were observing the interaction from a distance, waiting to swoop in. The “guests” ended up citing and releasing the suspect for California Code of Regulations Title 14 4331, Solicitation in a State Park property, along with other misdemeanor charges.
The site was listed on Airbnb, a popular vacation rental website. Spokesperson Molly Weedn provided the following statement to YubaNet: “When hosts register on Airbnb, they must certify that they will comply with local rules before they list their space. The listing in question violated our community standards and we took action to remove it from our platform.”
Alison Lehman, Nevada County’s Assistant CEO stated: “The campsite illegally created and rented out on State Parks property is a flagrant misuse of public lands and posed a safety issue for all nearby residents and recreational users in our community’s South Yuba River State Park. Our office gives kudos to Nevada County Consolidated Fire District, California State Parks, and the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office for working together to quickly identify, cite, and cease the rental of this site so that our local State Park lands stay protected and safe for everyone to enjoy.”
“We’ll review the report for filing when we receive it. We take environmental crimes and consumer protection crimes very seriously, especially when they involve one of Nevada County’s dearest treasures, the Yuba River,” said District Attorney Cliff Newell.
The camp presented not only a fire danger but also a health hazard to visitors. “The site took eight State Park facility personnel over eight hours to clean and rehabilitate. They collected approximately 300 pounds of trash and various equipment,” Green stated.
Given the scarcity of State Parks staff this year, this undoubtedly put a considerable strain on their meager resources. Green is in the process of reaching out to SYRCL and their volunteers to finish dismantling the camp during the upcoming river cleanup.
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“It was a great cooperative operation between allied agencies that possibly prevented a large scale fire event. We are extremely grateful for the assistance provided by Chief Jim Turner and his team,” Green said. McMahon was equally enthusiastic about the joint effort, stating “We all collaborate in that canyon, it’s the only way we can keep everyone safe.”
State Parks and Consolidated are part of the Yuba River Safety Cohort, a group of agencies, non-profits and neighbors who have been working to improve safety in the canyon.
Disaster waiting to happen
The camp was set up on State Park land in a high risk fire zone and a high intensity use area. Green stated “A fire caused by occupants at that location could have been catastrophic because of the upward river canyon slopes, dry chaparral and canyon winds. The rental area had several outdoor fire rings, a kitchen, tiki torches, fuel and fire starter.”
Any fire in the Yuba canyon has the potential to turn into a fast-moving major incident, putting the lives of visitors to the area, homeowners in the vicinity and first responders at risk. The installation of a satellite call box at Purdon Crossing with a direct connection to dispatch is reducing response times. However, fire behavior models show a fire starting in that area – under the right conditions (high temperatures, dry fuels and winds out of the north) – would only take 15-20 minutes to reach either North San Juan or, more likely, the outskirts of Nevada City – destroying homes in its path and trapping people at the river.
There is a strict prohibition on fire in the South Yuba River State Park and on BLM land in the canyon. Fire restrictions are also in effect further upstream on the Tahoe National Forest.
Keep all of us safe – report fires!
Any fire in the canyon can turn lethal very quickly. Please report any fires immediately by using the call box at Purdon Crossing. Many lives may depend on it.