At least six fires in western Nevada County, including one Monday, have started in homeless camps this season, though fire officials hope an outreach program would teach campers to be firesafe.
Another half-dozen sightings of smoke have prompted fire officials to go out and investigate.
"We send out an engine and find a homeless camp with a campfire," said Fire Chief Tim Fike of Nevada County Consolidated Fire Protection District.
With dry brush everywhere and fires elsewhere in California drawing away local resources, Fike worried about a wildlands fire getting started amid populated areas.
"We are going to get one of these (incidents) on the wrong day, and we're going to have a problem," Fike said.
In his review of homeless camps where fire has started, Fike noted the lack of precaution: No defensible space was cleared around the camp or around fire rings and trash left in the camp was flammable.
"They're not doing anything to be firesafe," Fike added. "Smoking and campfires right now are not a good idea."
He is hoping volunteers with Hospitality House, the area's mobile homeless shelter, could use their connections in the camps to spread firesafe practices, Fike said.
While most campers either don't qualify for Hospitality House or don't want to stay in the shelter, they do accept gifts of camping equipment.
At the end of each season when Hospitality House closes for the summer, "we know we're sending people out to camp," Executive Director Cindy Maple said Tuesday. "They're going to have to prepare meals somehow."
Maple has worked with Grass Valley Police Department, which sends an officer each spring to discuss safety with campers.
Hospitality House would welcome a partnership with local fire agencies to minimize the risk of wildfire arising in the camps, Maple added.
"There's more that could be done," she said.
Hospitality House has been instrumental in outreach to the camps, offering camping gear (with the exception of camp stoves, Maple said), social services and documenting the population of area homeless people during U.S. Census counts.
Most recently, a smoker at a homeless camp between Idaho-Maryland and Bennett Street, just outside city limits, apparently sparked a 50-foot-by-50-foot fire Monday that was quickly doused by crews from three local agencies, Consolidated reported.
On Sept. 5, another homeless camp along Olympia Creek between Sutton Way and Brunswick Road, in Grass Valley's Glenbrook Basin, was the scene of a fire that spread to about 30 feet by 30 feet, Consolidated officials reported.
To contact Senior Staff Writer Trina Kleist, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4230.