High fire danger brings ban in Tahoe basin | TahoeDailyTribune.com

High fire danger brings ban in Tahoe basin

A ban on open campfires and cigarette smoking will go into effect Friday on National Forest lands in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Unusually dry conditions have caused the federal land manager to implement the fire restrictions, said Mark Johnson, fire management officer for the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe unit.

“We been pretty quiet this year – we’ve had about 36 fires so far and that’s about average,” Johnson said. “But it’s been extremely dry, and we’re entering the worst period for fire danger between now and the first wetting rain.”

Mild weather conditions and slight winds have allowed the basin to remain at a high fire danger rating, as opposed to the extreme rating it gets when humidity levels are low and winds pick up to gale force.

Still, fire officials want to play it safe in the fire game.

“Most of the Northern California’s National Forests implemented fire restrictions weeks ago,” Johnson said. “We’re piggy backing off that and it should be easier for visitors to deal with consistent restrictions.”

Campfires, other than those in developed campsites, are illegal under the restrictions. Smoking outside of an enclosed vehicle is also illegal.

“Putting a cigarette out in a punky log may not have resulted in a fire in June but it could result in a fire now,” Johnson added. “Unsafe smoking and escaped campfires are the top causes of fire in the basin.”

The 36 fires have been mostly ignited by lightning, the third leading cause of fires in the basin.

“All of those have been very small, generally less than a quarter of an acre,” Johnson said. “But the season is just getting started and I expect that we’ll have about 60 fires before the year is over which means we could suffer about a fire a day from here on out.”

The Forest Service in the Lake Tahoe Basin staffs four engines, three fire prevention officers and a 20-person hand crew as its main defense against fire on national forest service lands, which amounts to more than 70 percent of Tahoe’s forests.

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