Chief’s Corner: Fire season restrictions and what you need to know (opinion) |

Chief’s Corner: Fire season restrictions and what you need to know (opinion)

Michael Schwartz & Steve Simons
Chief’s Corner

The Lake Tahoe Basin’s forests have an extraordinary amount of fuel and some of the highest ignition rates in the Sierra Nevada, calling for specific fire restrictions during fire season, and for additional restrictions imposed during Red Flag Conditions.

Despite these restrictions, over 90 percent of fires in the Tahoe Basin are human caused (mostly from campfires), which begs the question; not if there will be a devastating fire here, but when. Understanding and respecting fire restrictions and the significance of heightened restrictions during Red Flag Warnings that are issued when weather conditions create high fire danger is an important step in preventing the next devastating fire.

The Tahoe Basin spans two states, five counties and 10 fire agencies at the federal, state and local levels. The different agencies in the basin have differences in fire restrictions based on the threats in their areas. People living, recreating and even traveling through these areas need to be educated in order to do their part and keep the Tahoe Basin safe.

North Tahoe Fire (NTFPD) and Meeks Bay Fire Protection Districts (MBFPD) suspend all burn permits for outdoor residential burning and prohibit recreational campfires during fire season, such as bonfires, portable outdoor fireplaces, and recreational fires (CFC 202) (Campfires).

Acceptable burning includes burning taking place in gas fireplaces (LPG, NG), manufactured portable fireplaces/chimineas that are properly screened, and barbecues. Exempted fires must have a total fuel area of 3 feet or less in diameter and 2 feet or less in height, and must be placed at least 15 feet from a structure or combustible material.

Renters (permanent or vacation) may have a campfire only if the property owner has provided written permission, and the renter has this letter in their possession (CA PRC 4433).

During red flag warning days, a declaration by the fire chief can be enforced, prohibiting all open burning during that time period. (Local ordinance 307.1.2). The USFS also prohibits the cutting of wood in such conditions.

“Historically we have had many wildfires in our area that have been traced to unextinguished campfires,” said NTFPD Fire Chief Michael Schwartz.

While charcoal barbecues are allowed in most jurisdictions, extreme caution should be exercised when using them around combustible materials, on wood decks and when disposing of the ashes. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommended instructions and clearances.

For information on how to prevent wildfires, visit

Michael Schwartz is fire chief of the North Tahoe Fire Protection District. Steve Simons is fire chief of the Meeks Bay Fire Protection District.