Fire Danger and Restrictions

Fire Restrictions:  Fire restrictions are put in place to protect the public and natural resources. They are designed to reduce human-caused fires. Always know before you go! Contact the District Offices to determine current allowable uses on the Forest.

Click here for Fire Restrictions in effect on the Sierra National Forest.

Fire Danger: What are the Fire Danger Levels?

The National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) is a system that allows fire managers to estimate today's or tomorrow's fire danger for a given area. It links an organization's readiness level (or pre-planned fire suppression actions) to the potential fire problems of the day.

Knowledge of these levels can help forest visitors make decisions about whether or not to have a campfire or ride their OHV in a grassy area. Homeowners may choose to postpone burning a debris pile if they are aware of the fire danger level for that day. Contractors working in the forest may consider extra precautions when using equipment that might produce sparks. In some cases, the National Forest may even restrict certain activities based on the fire danger levels.

What are the different levels and what do they mean?  We use five different color-coded levels to help the public understand fire potential. The purpose of this is for visitors to understand the current conditions and help mitigate their actions to prevent human-caused wildfires. Shown below is a brief explanation of the different fire danger levels, using adjectives and colors based on criteria established by the National Fire Danger Rating System.

Fire Danger Level: Low

When the fire danger is "low" it means that fuels do not ignite easily from small embers, but a more intense heat source, such as lightning, may start fires in duff or dry rotten wood. Fires in open, dry grasslands may burn easily a few hours after a rain, but most wood fires will spread slowly, creeping or smoldering. Control of fires is generally easy.

Restrictions Low

Fire Danger Level: Moderate

When the fire danger is "moderate" it means that fires can start from most accidental causes, but the number of fire starts is usually pretty low. If a fire does start in an open, dry grassland, it will burn and spread quickly on windy days. Most wood fires will spread slowly to moderately. Average fire intensity will be moderate except in heavy concentrations of fuel, which may burn hot. Fires are still not likely to become serious and are often easy to control.

Restrictions Moderate

Fire Danger Level: High

When the fire danger is "high", fires can start easily from most causes and small fuels (such as grasses and needles) will ignite readily. Unattended campfires and brush fires are likely to escape. Fires will spread easily, with some areas of high-intensity burning on slopes or concentrated fuels. Fires can become serious and difficult to control unless they are put out while they are still small.

Restrictions High

Fire Danger Level: Very High

When the fire danger is "very high", fires will start easily from most causes. The fires will spread rapidly and have a quick increase in intensity, right after ignition. Small fires can quickly become large fires and exhibit extreme fire intensity, such as long-distance spotting and fire whirls. These fires can be difficult to control and will often become much larger and longer-lasting fires.

Restrictions Very High

Fire Danger Level: Extreme

When the fire danger is "extreme", fires of all types start quickly and burn intensely. All fires are potentially serious and can spread very quickly with intense burning. Small fires become big fires much faster than at the "very high" level. Spot fires are probable, with long-distance spotting likely. These fires are very difficult to fight and may become very dangerous and often last for several days.

Restrictions Extrem

What fire danger factors are used to get the Fire Danger Rating?  The key inputs into the NFDRS model are: fuels, weather, topography and risks.

What do you mean by "Adjective Rating"? The "Adjective Ratings" are a public information description of the relative severity of the current fire danger situation in a general area. Adjective Ratings are generally posted on signs as visitor enter public lands or at agency offices. Many people associate these signs as "Smokey Bear signs".

Please remember that no fireworks are allowed in the National Forests.

Fines for escaped campfires, fireworks, and having a campfire in a closed area:

  • If a fire results from your escaped campfire or the illegal use of fireworks, you can be cited for any violation incurred under the current fire restriction level. Violation of these regulations are punishable as a Class B misdemeanor, by a fine of not more than $5000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or imprisonment for not more than six (6) months or both. 16 USC § 551, and 18 USC §§ 3559 and 3571.

  • This violation doesn’t just apply if your fire escapes, but also if you “build, maintain, attend or use” a campfire in an area where campfires are not allowed (areas closed to campfire use). You may also be charged for any fire suppression costs.  Suppression efforts are very costly, often running into hundreds of thousands of dollars and more.

  • Do not ignore the campfire restrictions! Please report any unattended campfires.

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