An illegal campfire that escaped a makeshift fire ring Tuesday showed how easy it would be for the San Bernardino National Forest to endure a disaster.
Firefighters were dispatched to the fire off Mill Creek Road around 10:15 a.m. and extinguished the small, 30-square-foot fire as it made its way into heavy fuels in the area, according to San Bernardino National Forest officials.
Officials said the campfire had been placed on top of dry pine needles, which caused it to spread under a fire ring made of rocks.
The fire was also found within 100 feet of a sign that said, “no campfires,” forest officials said, adding that “numerous signs” with the same prohibition can be seen in the area.
Firefighters on scene also found citronella tea candles and small pop-it fireworks, which are both prohibited, officials said.
“Dispersed campfires are not allowed and this is exactly why,” said U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Michael Koontz. “We really need the public’s help in abiding by our fire restrictions.”
Under current restrictions, campfires are only allowed in campfire rings provided by the Forest Service at designated campgrounds, where there are full-time campground hosts.
But if conditions continue to worsen over the fire season, forest service officials said even those campfires may get banned later in the year.
In the backcountry, people aren’t allowed to have open campfires at all. And people who want to use camp stoves are required to get a California campfire permit.
People who get caught building or using an illegal fire ring can face a steep fine of up to $5,000 for individuals, or $10,000 for a group, and up to six months in prison.
If an illegal campfire escapes and causes damage, people guilty of starting it can be subject to more criminal and civil penalties.
Despite restrictions in place, rangers found 18 illegal campfires in the San Bernardino National Forest over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, prompting them Tuesday to remind visitors that wildfire danger remains extremely high.
Another illegal campfire escaped in May off of John Bull Flat Road, in the area northwest of Baldwin Lake, officials said.