New legislation would align state parks, fire district burn policies

Laney Griffo
A view of Emerald Bay and Lake Tahoe’s West Shore from a camping site at Emerald Bay State Park.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — New legislation recently introduced into the California State Senate would align fire policies of state parks and local fire districts.

Senate Bill 1012, introduced by state Senators Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa) and Jim Nielsen (R-Red Bluff), would require state parks to enforce rules on open fires that are at least as restrictive as limits adopted by the fire department or fire district within whose boundaries the park is located.

As fires become more common and more destructive, this bill is more important than ever.

Meeks Bay Fire Protection District has been outspoken in its support of the bill. There are three state parks located within the district, Emerald Bay State Park, Sugar Pine State Park and D.L. Bliss State Park and even though they respond to fires in those parks, they can’t currently restrict campfires or flame grills in the campgrounds.

“State Parks cannot comment on the proposed legislation. However, the department can tell you that campfires in state parks are regulated through the California Code of Regulations,” said California State Parks, Sierra District Superintendent Dan Canfield. “CCR Section 4311 prohibits all fires in state parks except in camp stoves or fire rings provided and designated by state parks. When the department makes a finding of extreme fire hazard for a park unit, fire prohibition is expanded to all wood and charcoal fires. Typically, portable gas stoves are still allowed in campgrounds under these extreme fire hazard restrictions.”

Meeks Bay District Board Chairman Ed Miller said their relationship with state parks has never been adversarial and even before the bill was introduced, the Sierra District was reworking their policies to align with that of the district. The importance of the bill, rather, is to eliminate confusion for visitors and residents.

“Imagine you’re driving down Highway 89 and there are burn restrictions in place but you see someone at a state park with a campfire and you can’t have one in your backyard,” Miller said.

This bill will ensure that the burn restrictions are in place everywhere so there is no confusion about where and when you can have a fire.

“The Sierra District is working to achieve greater consistency with local fire restrictions and strengthen coordination efforts with local fire districts regarding fire restrictions and messaging,” Canfield said. “When feasible, Sierra District staff will regularly participate in local fire district board meetings to discuss current and planned fire restrictions and the rationale behind them.”

Canfield continued to say, “At state park campgrounds, campfire restriction determinations are being made on a daily basis by public safety staff with first-hand knowledge of current conditions. Things like weather conditions, public safety staffing levels, and campground occupancy levels are part of the factors used to determine if and when campfires can be allowed. Tahoe area parks have a long safety record on campfires and have never had a wildfire issue as a result of authorized campfires in designated campgrounds with campfire rings.”

Even if Sierra District is aligned with fire districts, if other state parks have different policies, a fire could start there which could still pull resources away from Tahoe.

“This common-sense legislation provides clarity to campers and residents alike by requiring the state to respect the local and regional firefighters who are on the front lines preventing wildfires,” Glazer said in a press release. “These fires can kill people and animals, destroy property, and consume thousands of acres of wildlands, and we should do all we can to prevent them.”

The press release went on to say, “Although the state park superintendent for the Sierra District recently pledged to work more closely with local fire agencies, Glazer said the state should be required to follow the local districts’ lead. He also said that while the current administration may be willing to adopt such a policy, SB 1012 is needed so that future state officials continue to abide by it.”

The bill passed the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water with a bipartisan 8-0 vote. The bill has now been moved to the suspension file in the Senate Appropriations Committee, meaning it does not get a normal hearing with witnesses and debate. The vote on the bill will be announced on May 20.

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