EL DORADO COUNTY (CBS13) — A surge in campers and hikers to the El Dorado National Forest is creating major safety problems, from fire danger to trash dumping.
The U.S. Forest Service has created a special prevention team to try to educate campers about the dangers. A spokesperson said this has a lot to do with COVID-19 cabin fever. Going outdoors and camping is one of the last options for a vacation.
"We've never seen people like this. Our numbers have tripled. Just people on top of people," said Adam Whitehouse, a campground host in the Silver Fork area.
Whitehouse is the eyes and ears for camping safety. He said he's noticed a pattern amid the surge.
"We are seeing a lot of newbies," he said.
The Forest Service said those newbies are unfamiliar with safety rules. Some have been parking illegally on side roads, blocking crucial escape routes that are needed in case of a fire.
"A lot of the side roads are getting hammered. There's just lots and lots of vehicles parked on the side of the road," said Jennifer Chapman, a public affairs officer for the El Dorado National Forest.
Chapman said there have been 50 fires already this year that were sparked by people not putting out a campfire properly.
"We have a lot of fire potential, it's drier," she said.
Many of the fires are illegal, to begin with, because they were started outside of designated areas. Whitehouse said "dispersed campers" or those who venture off the beaten path, are usually responsible. He said the problem is out of control near his campsite, China Flat.
"There's at least 100 campers there right now, dispersed camping, not contained, they're just tents set up and they're having fires," he said.
On top of it all, the Forest Service now has a major trash problem. Many people recklessly leave it behind, instead of transporting it home.
"They dig a hole and they bury their trash, but the animals, of course, can smell it and they dig it back up," Chapman said.
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