(KTXL) — Agencies are telling residents in the Lake Tahoe area to expect an increase in bear activity as the animals emerge from their winter dens following the aftermath of the Caldor Fire. 

When the Caldor Fire erupted last year, wild animals, including bears, were forced to flee away from the flames, according to a press release from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

The CDFW, California State Parks, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the USDA Forest Service are the agencies that make up the Lake Tahoe Interagency Bear Team. 

The Caldor Fire, which lasted 70 days, burned more than 221,000 acres and destroyed more than 780 structures. Homes were destroyed in El Dorado, Amador and Alpine counties. 

When the fire threatened the South Lake Tahoe region, mandatory evacuations went into effect, allowing wild animals to roam freely in the streets. Bears, coyotes and raccoons went into areas usually filled with people. 

A Sept. 2021 video shows bears ransacking garbage cans at local gas stations and convenience stores.

“These habituated bears suddenly had no humans yelling, making noise, chasing or hazing them, and no electric deterrents because of power outages,” the CDFW said in its press release. 

Bears also broke into homes and caused damage to garage doors, windows and vehicles, including a home featured in a YouTube video from the California State Parks Sierra District. 

In February, DNA evidence discovered three bears were responsible for more than 150 incident reports in the Tahoe region. The incidents were originally thought to be caused by one 500-pound bear nicknamed “Hank the Tank.”

When residents returned to their South Lake Tahoe homes from Caldor Fire evacuations, a “trap/tag/haze operation” from the CDFW allowed them to begin repairs on their homes and items. 

In an attempt to break the cycle, the CDFW said bears were moved to unburned habitat and gave them a negative human interaction upon release with airhorns, paintball guns and non-lethal rounds. 

The CDFW said the evaluation period from the Caldor Fire will have “rippling” and “lasting” effects on bear behavior for seasons to come.

As bears emerge from their dens, the CDFW said homeowners can do their part to prevent or deter this type of behavior. According to the Lake Tahoe Interagency Bear Team, here are some steps residents and visitors can take:

  • Businesses should keep their dumpsters locked at all times.
  • Use bear-resistant trash containers.
  • Do not allow unsecured attractants such as bird feeders.
  • Don’t feed bears (or any wild animal). It’s against the law.

For those who live in areas with bears, it is suggested to do the following, according to tahoebears.org:

  • Use bear-resistant garbage cans.
  • Close windows and lock your home.
  • Keep bears away from neighborhoods.

As for visitors, here’s how you can prevent erratic behavior from bears:

  • Don’t feed bears or other wild animals. 
  • Dispose of garbage properly.
  • Never approach bears or cubs.
  • Prevent vehicle break-ins.

In California, to report a human and bear conflict, the CDFW suggests calling the department at 916-358-2917 or reporting it online on the Wildlife Incident Reporting (WIR) system. For non-emergency interactions, the public can contact the State Parks Department at 916-358-1300.