Out-of-bounds campers keep fire threat real | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Out-of-bounds campers keep fire threat real

Jack Carrerow

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune file Firefighters douse a man-made fire behind Harrah's Lake Tahoe off Loop Road in this 1999 photo. The area along the road is a popular spot for illegal campers.

INCLINE VILLAGE – The Waterfall fire that blackened 8,000 acres and destroyed 15 homes and businesses near Carson City hasn’t taught a lesson of fire safety to everyone.

“There are still people out there who are lighting campfires in restricted areas and that’s asking for trouble,” said U.S. Forest Service Public Information Officer Rex Norman.

The illegal fires are not the exclusive work of campers out for recreation and relaxation, according to Norman.

“There are several instances where people who work in the casinos, but can’t afford housing, live out in the woods,” Norman said. “It’s their means of cooking and since they don’t camp in a designated campground, the safety measures just aren’t there.”

However, Norman credits the public for keeping the situation at bay.

“It’s the vigilance of the public that keeps the dangerous situations from exploding,” Norman said. “We get calls from people all the time who spot potentially dangerous fires. I’d say that 98 percent of the people stick with the rules, but it only takes that remaining 2 percent to cause a disaster.”

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According to Norman, there have been 47 fires reported this year, four of those being caused by lightening strikes.

“We know for certain that nine of the fires were caused by campfires, but as far as the rest, it’s pretty sure they were man-made, whether it was from a cigarette, machinery or careless putting out of a fire,” Norman said.

While the Forest Service has had its share of potential human-caused fires, the Nevada Division of State Parks, because of its rules for camping in the Tahoe Basin, have avoided the hassle.

“All of our facilities in the basin are day-use only,” State Parks Chief of Operations and Maintenance Allen Newberry said. “We’ve had no major problems because of it and we really monitor our grounds to prevent anything from occurring.”

Newberry said parks have experienced dumping of charcoal briquettes.

“One mistake a lot of people make is dumping charcoal that is still hot. They don’t seem to realize that these still have the potential of starting a fire,” Newberry said.

As for any problems with campers in the unsupervised areas of the parks, Newberry said, “Again, there have been some cases of homeless people trying to get up to the areas where there’s less monitoring, but we’ve been very lucky at keeping that situation in check.”