Forest Service blames campfire for Tahoe wildfire
June 29, 2007
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – An illegal campfire caused the wildfire that has burned more than 250 homes and charred 3,100 acres south of Lake Tahoe, the U.S. Forest Service said.
The fire was built in a campfire-restricted area, but there was no evidence it was deliberately constructed to spark the devastating wildfire that has displaced about 3,500 people, said Donna Deaton, an investigator for the U.S. Forest Service, at a town hall meeting here Friday night.
Deaton said there are no suspects, and that the fire was built about a quarter-mile south of Seneca Pond, a popular recreation area south of Lake Tahoe.
Residents – who will be allowed to return to their burned-out streets at 8 a.m. today – did not seem surprised by the news.
“Apparently, kids hang out there,” said Donna Barker, a 21-year resident of Tahoe Keys who evacuated on Tuesday, although her home was spared. “I don’t think people think. It’s a sad reality. We’ve been prepared for that for a long time.”
Because of tinder-dry conditions due the lack snow over the winter, the U.S. Forest Service had banned all campfires, charcoal grills, smoking and fireworks throughout the Tahoe basin.
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Reported at around 2 p.m. Sunday, the fire started at the north end of Angora Park near a campsite.
Angora Park, a popular summer destination four miles from the shores of Lake Tahoe, features several trails.
A federal investigator said a reward has not been offered for the capture of whoever started the fire because it appears to have been done without criminal intent.
Federal investigators also have no current plans to prosecute.
Five years ago Tuesday, a discarded cigarette butt was blamed for igniting a fire beneath the gondola of Heavenly Mountain Resort, which spread to 672 acres before it was extinguished. Officials were not able to identify the careless smoker.
In May, a prosecutor asked for the death penalty for a man accused of igniting the Esperanza wildfire near Palm Springs, Calif. The man, an arsonist, set the fires on purpose using wooden matches and Marlboro cigarettes. The blaze killed five firefighters.
Fire officials on Friday morning began sending home some of the 2,400 firefighters dispatched from across the state as containment of the wildfire approached 75 percent in spite of Friday morning winds.
The blaze is expected to be completely contained by Tuesday.
• Reporters Andrew Pridgen, Amanda Fehd, Scott Lindlaw and Robert Jablon contributed to this report.