If you are camping or backpacking in California and build a fire, use any kind of stove or lantern with a flame, you must obtain and have on your person a California Campfire Permit. There might be some areas that are exempt, but it is best just to always have one because it can be difficult to sort out the regulations and many Government employees don’t know the regulations either. Normally if you are camped in a developed campground, a permit is not needed. However, sometimes there are exceptions.
This has been required for as long as I can remember, even in the 1960’s.
Permits are issued at most offices of the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. But not always. You are dealing with government agencies. You can also get them online at these agencies, but not always.
Last week I needed a permit, and the link on the US Forest Service would only print a permit that expired December 31, 2013. Par for the course. I was finally able to get a 2014 permit at http://www.preventwildfireca.org/Permits/.
Most online permit applications will require you to take a test first. The site I went to had 8 questions. After I passed the test, the site magically printed my permit in PDF format.
OTHER THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Rangers rarely ask to see your campfire permit. But if you hike often enough and in many areas run by all the Government agencies, you will eventually be asked to produce your campfire permit.
Your permit requires you to keep a shovel handy at all times. Most backpackers never, ever carry a shovel, unless in snow country. And yes, I have been asked to produce a shovel. The attentive Ranger accepted my “cat” trowel (used to dig a hole to poop) as a shovel. Many extremist type backpackers do not carry a trowel, because it is too heavy, and they dig cat holes with sticks, trekking poles, hiking staffs, shoe heels, rocks, or their hands.
Above: (left) I use a QiWiz Titanium Cat Trowel, which weighs 0.4 ounces. You can buy an inexpensive orange trowel at the weight cost of about 2 ounces (right).
Another regulation requires that you clear an area of all combustible materials 5 feet in all directions from the edge of the flame. Of course most stove demonstrations and reviews you read on the Internet usually have the stove sitting on top of combustible materials, and this includes most of the so-called backpacking experts. Oh, well. 🙁