Austen Thibault, The Union Democrat

The U.S. Forest Service will suspend burning, including campfires, and other incendiary dangers in much of the Stanislaus National Forest starting Saturday.

Effective 12:01 a.m., campfires are suspended in all of the lower-elevation areas of the forest - deemed "high-hazard zones" - except within developed campground areas.

The campfire suspension includes cooking with a briquette-type barbecue.

Campers outside designated camping areas are required to have a California Campfire Permit to use portable stoves or lanterns that use gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel.

Generally, the new restricted zone is all of the forest from the foothills to Pinecrest, along Highway 108, and to Dorrington, along Highway 4.

An online map at shows the "high hazard" restricted areas. You can also ask about restrictions at any local U.S. Forest Service station.

Smoking is also restricted outside enclosed vehicles or buildings, unless in a cleared area at least three feet in diameter. Welding and use of explosives are also prohibited without a permit.

Forest rangers will be on the lookout for these violations. Violators can face $5,000 fines as individuals, $10,000 as organizations and imprisonment of up to 6 months, or both.

These restrictions are in place until the end of the fire season, or until stated otherwise.

"A low snow pack, drying winds and recent hot temperatures have caused tinder-dry conditions in the forest and provided ready fuels for possible wildfires," Forest Supervisor Susan Skalski said in a prepared statement. "This forest order serves as an extra measure to help reduce the potential for large and damaging wildfires. We are asking the public's cooperation in helping us prevent destructive fires before they start."

How real is the risk posed by campfires?

A neglected campfire was blamed for sparking the Carsten Fire, still burning in Mariposa County. The fire has charred 1,660 acres and threatened lives and homes.

The fire is expected to be fully contained by June 24. As of this morning, it was 60 percent contained.

Evacuations were lifted last night for Clarks Valley, Jerseydale, Hites Cove and Triangle Road West.

Only about 50 homes are still under evacuation, after between 150 and 500 homes were threatened at one point.

Smoke in the area appears to be greatly diminished today.