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Grass Valley Officials Crack Down on Illegal Campfires

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GRASS VALLEY -- The recent fires in Northern California have foothill communities on alert. Of particular concern are illegal campfires used by homeless campers.

Even small towns like Grass Valley have to deal with the hazards that come with homeless camps. A creek has actually been dammed up so homeless campers can use it to bathe and wash dishes.

But their biggest concern, especially now, is illegal campfires.

Four people were arrested after they ignored a warning to put out the fire and vacate the area. There is an apartment complex across the creek and just up the hill.

"If any embers from this fire pit go above the creek, there’s a good chance we could lose the entire apartment complex," said Lt. Joe Mateoni with the Grass Valley Police Department.

That's not just speculation, a homeless campfire in the same area last year burned five acres and caused the evacuation of the apartments.

They've stepped up patrols in the wooded area that adjoins businesses and apartment complexes just across the creek. The problem is so acute that several officers have been assigned to patrol homeless encampments.

"Especially now with all the campfires and campsites and all the dry timber around here," Mateoni said.

It's not the job of the Grass Valley Police Department to make things miserable for homeless people, but there are legitimate safety concerns, not only for residents in the area, but the transients themselves.

“The potential for homeless camps like this to be impacted by fire, we worry about their safety as well as the safety of the apartment dwellers behind us," Mark Button, Grass Valley fire chief.

The tough thing is that homeless campers keep coming back even after warnings and arrests. But police say all they can do is remain alert for fires in the area.