Extreme Fire Danger – what it means to the Rubicon and OHV

The winter of 2013/14 was a dud. The governor of California declared a drought for California in January. Mid-summer fire conditions existed in January and continue to get worse. The fire danger on the Rubicon and other trails this coming season will be extreme and fire restrictions will come very early. Unless we get a huge late snowfall, it could be a short wheeling season.

In 2007, the Tahoe National Forest (TNF) declared extreme fire danger and with a July 2nd forest order closed the entire forest to internal combustion engines. That closure included chainsaws, motorcycles and jeeps. This closure rekindled my interest in building an electric Jeep, but that’s a topic for another article.


Due to continued hot, dry, and windy weather, fire restrictions in the Tahoe National Forest (TNF) will be increased beginning Monday, July 2, 2007…the restrictions will affect several activities:

* Fireworks – Absolutely no fireworks are permitted in the National Forest.

* Campfires – Only permitted in those campgrounds that have water systems, metal campfire rings, fire engine accessibility and regular patrols by campground hosts. Visitors can contact any TNF office for a list of campgrounds where campfires are permitted.

* Portable Stoves and Lanterns – Permitted in all campgrounds and the backcountry with a valid campfire permit.

* Woodcutting – Check the woodcutting hotlines each day to determine if chainsaws are

* Off-Highway Vehicle Use – Only permitted on designated roads; the Prosser Pit area near Truckee; and the Sugar Pine OHV area north of Foresthill. (Not permitted on trails other than the areas mentioned.)

* Smoking – Limited to vehicles, buildings, and in a 3-foot cleared area.

* Contract/Permittee Operations – Any operation or permittee that uses internal combustion engines or fire, must have an approved fire plan.


Thankfully, in 2006, the Placer County Board of Supervisors voted to recognize the Rubicon Trail as a “public trail”. That vote transferred control of the Rubicon Trail from the forest service to Placer County. Both forests involved were okay with Placer County claiming the Rubicon Trail as a public trail and thus controlling management of the trail.


WHEREAS the “McKinney Rubicon Trail” is a world renowned off-highway vehicle trail

that is partially located on federal lands within Placer County; and

WHEREAS the Trail has been in public use for at least 150 years; and

WHEREAS the Trail provides valued recreational asset for the citizens of Placer

because of the technically advanced driving conditions that exist in the open space

environment for off-road vehicle enthusiasts; and

WHEREAS the County desires that the Trail continue to be available for public use into

the future;

BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED by the Board of Supervisors of the County of Placer, State

of California, that this Board recognizes the “McKinney Rubicon Trail” as a public trail;

AND HEREBY states its intent to use all reasonable measures available to it to ensure

continued public access.


If Placer County had not voted in favor of the “public trail”, the Rubicon would have been closed in 2007 to vehicular traffic, including both Jeepers Jamborees.

A similar order in 2014, by any one of the three forests along the Rubicon, could close some of the side trails off the Rubicon. So, if you have any intention of wheeling any of these routes, do it early. Fire restrictions are progressive, they start with banning camp fires, then move to ban any open flames (including cigarettes) and progress until they ban all internal combustion engines.


Components of Stages

There are two fire restriction stages: Stage I and Stage II. There is one closure stage: Stage III. To reduce confusion and standardize the restrictions, the following conditions, by stage, should be used in all restriction documents. Additional elements may be added as conditions dictate.


Stage I

The following acts are prohibited:

  • Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire or campfire except within a developed recreation site, or improved site. 36 CFR 261.52(a).
  • Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials. 36 CFR 261.52(d).
  • Operating or using any internal or external combustion engine without a spark-arresting device properly installed, maintained, and in effective working order meeting either the USDA Forest Service Standard 5100-1a (as amended), or appropriate Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recommended practice J335(b) and J350(a) (36 CFR 261.52(j)).


Stage II

The following acts are prohibited, in addition to the prohibitions of Stage I:


  • Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire or campfire. 36 CFR 261.52(a)
  • Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building. 36 CFR 261.52(c)
  • Possessing, discharging, or using any kind of firework or other pyrotechnic device.

    36 CFR 261.52(f)

  • Using an explosive. 36 CFR 261.52(b)
  • Operating a chainsaw or other equipment powered by an internal combustion engine between 1:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. 36 CFR 261.52(h).
  • Operating or using any internal or external combustion engine without a spark arresting device properly installed, maintained and in effective working order meeting


    • USDA Forest Service Standard 5100-1a (as amended); or
    • Appropriate Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recommended practice

      J335 (b) and J350 (a). 36 CFR § 261.52(j) and 43 CFR § 9212.1(h);

  • Welding, or operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame. 36 CFR 261.52(i)
  • Possess or use a motor vehicle off: Forest System Roads (36 CFR 261.56) Except when parking in an area devoid of vegetation within 10 feet of the roadway; and except for parking overnight in developed campgrounds and at trailheads.


Stage III

The area is closed to all entry (36 CFR 261.52(e)) other than as follows:

  • Persons with a written fire entry and activity permit that specifically authorizes the otherwise prohibited act. This may include such persons as grazing-permit holders when entry is needed to gather, move, or otherwise manage their permitted livestock, special-use authorization holders when access is needed to maintain emergency or other communications operations, and others.
  • Any federal, state, or local officer, or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.
  • Resident owners and lessees of land within the closed area.


Dates for fire restrictions being put in place on the TNF over the last decade or so range from June 1st to August 18th and in in 2011 I don’t think they EVER had fire restrictions due to the huge and late winter. Dates for lifting the ban on camp fires range from September 1st to October 23rd.

So, get out early this season. Make sure you rig is good to go now so you can take advantage of the early opening dates of the trails in the Sierras. Don’t wait for the waters and air temperatures to warm up because by the time things warm up, they might be closed.

Bring extra layers to wear instead of starting a camp fire every night even if they are still allowed. Eat sandwiches instead of steaks and cereal instead of bacon and eggs. Or have a contest with your buddies to see who can build the better solar cooker for your next camp out.



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