Forest Service closes all land in California due to fire risk
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – The U.S. Forest Service has taken unprecedented action in closing all 18 forest regions in California, including those surrounding Lake Tahoe — El Dorado National Forest, Tahoe National Forest and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
The Forest Service, which closed campgrounds and banned camping on Tuesday, extended its order to include closure of trails and trailheads.
LTBMU Public Affairs Specialist Lisa Herron said they are still working on the details on how to reach people who might currently be out in the backcountry, adding that she hasn’t seen the forest service make a decision like this in the nearly 15 years she’s been working with them.
A combination of the increase of people going out into the forest because of the pandemic and extreme fire conditions has led to an increase in fires throughout the west. As of Sept. 9, Northern California has 30 uncontained fires burning, National Interagency Coordination Center Incident Management Situation Report said.
According to forest service order, violations of the closure could be punishable by a fine up to $5,000 for an individual, $10,000 or an organization or imprisonment for up to six months.
“People need to follow these instructions,” Herron said to the Tribune. “The Forest Service doesn’t make these kinds of decisions lightly. There isn’t a fire in the basin now, but that could change quickly.”
The forest closures are scheduled to last until Sept. 14 but they will continue monitoring the situation.
The city of South Lake Tahoe is also preparing for fire.
While the city’s beaches and campground are not closed, they are not accepting any new reservations for 2020. The fire pits and barbeques at those sites have been taped off and no fires of any kind are permitted in the city.
South Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Clive Savacool said they receive between six to 12 calls a day about people using fire pits and BBQs. They respond to the calls, put out the fires and educate the people about the regulations and have yet to have any fire get out of control.
“We’re staying on top of every fire of any kind,” Savacool said.
During the city council meeting on Tuesday, councilmembers asked if the city should follow the Forest Service’s lead in closing campgrounds but ultimately decided to leave them open with increased patrol.
“The dynamics the Forest Service is facing are different from what we’re facing in the city,” Savacool said. Adding that while it’s easy for them to put out a fire pit fire, it’s not as easy for the Forest Service to put out a similar fire in the backcountry.
Savacool also said while the department is prepared to handle any fire in the city, they are taxed to the brim with several of their firefighters out on special assignment.
With the forest closures, the city is prepared for an influx of visitors of people who might have planned to go out into the forest this weekend.
“We’ve had months to prepare,” said Chris Fiore, SLT communications manager, “People still need to be responsible. There are simple things we can do, wear a mask, socially distance, pick up your litter and don’t start a fire.”
The city has launched the “Don’t Light a Match” campaign to inform visitors on what red flag warnings are and how to behave during a red flag warning. To learn more, visit http://cityofslt.us/firedanger.
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