Officers make regular sweeps through illegal camp areas |

Officers make regular sweeps through illegal camp areas

Gregory Crofton
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune Joanne Swafford, center, has been homeless at South Shore since December. Alexis Asher, left, and Wendy Foss, are trying to help her get off the street. Asher and Foss both have been homeless at one point in their lives.

Tahoe’s homeless often spend their summer in beds of high meadow grass or in a comfy spot at the base of a tree.

A temperate climate and an abundance of hard-to-get-to meadows and backcountry provide beautiful crash pads for people with no place to stay. But where people are, there can be fire.

Law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Forest Service sweep the forest looking for illegal campers each year. The last sweep occurred July 7. Officers arrested one camper in California and forced another to pack up and leave.

“Fire is the main reason,” said Sgt. Tom Mezzetta, of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department. “Any type of campfire set up in the woods, under the current drought conditions especially, is a real concern.”

Popular places to illegally camp include forest areas behind the casinos at Stateline, in South Lake Tahoe off at the end of Chonokis Road and the meadow behind Motel 6 next to the Upper Truckee River.

On the recent sweep, law enforcement searched on foot but sometimes they search on horseback.

“We try to reduce illegal camping because of the campfire danger,” said Sgt. Alex Schumacher, of the South Lake Tahoe Police Department. “But also because the people living up there tend to be more criminally oriented.”

Longtime Tahoe resident Charles Bell lives at the end of Chonokis Road. He said he does worry about illegal campers catching the forest on fire.

“I don’t know if they are smart about fire,” Bell, 84, said. “I suppose in the summer it’s a cheaper way to live for sure. I don’t blame a guy for sleeping on the ground, that’s fine. It’s fire that I’m afraid of. What’s my defense?”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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