Thousands of South Lake Tahoe homeowners who escaped the Caldor Fire in California were allowed to return home this weekend, but officials cautioned them that they could face an unexpected threat: bears.
According to the Associated Press, Sgt Simon Brown of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office told reporters, "The delicate balance between humans and bears has been disrupted."
With Humans Gone, the Bears Came In
With the people gone for more than a week, the local bears were more assertive, appearing in more centrally situated, metropolitan districts than usual. According to SFGate, in addition to humans being gone, habitat and food source devastation caused by the wildfire may have pushed the bears to seek sanctuary in urban areas.
The bears have been strewing trash and, in some cases, breaking into residences without permission. Chief Dave Stevenson of the South Lake Tahoe Police Agency informed local television station KCRA that the department has received complaints of 17 break-ins this week, 15 of which turned out to be bear-related.
"Arresting" the Bears?
Sgt. Brown told SFGate that bears breaking into homes is "not a crime." While law enforcement won't "arrest" the animals, he said they would try to lure them away from people's homes.
Returning residents should be wary if they detect any signs that a bear may have entered their home, according to bear expert Toogee Sielsch, because the animal may still be there.
"When you go home, and it appears that a window or door has been opened and that something has gained entry to your house, don't hurry in and especially don't block that spot," Sielsch told KCRA. "It may be a wild animal that has gotten into your house since it's the only way they'll know to get out of your house."
Lifting Mandatory Evacuation
On Sunday afternoon, authorities removed the mandatory evacuation orders for South Lake Tahoe and the surrounding regions, reducing them to a warning while firefighters battled the Caldor Fire. However, officials stated that the fire threat was not completely gone and that the air was still hazy and dangerous to people with respiratory problems.
Caldor Fire Rapid Spread
Because of the fast spread of the Caldor Fire, which started on August 14, the US Forest Service closed almost all national forests in the state until September 17. In addition, several state parks have been shuttered entirely or partially in the aftermath of a dozen major fires blazing throughout California.
Though wildfires have long been a natural and even beneficial part of the Western environment, human-caused climate change and heritage of ineffective forest fire management have combined to generate larger, deadlier, and more devastating blazes. Extinguishing flames rather than allowing smaller, less powerful fires to burn out was common among European settlers who colonized the western United States and Canada, resulting in a significant accumulation of combustible vegetation over the region. Furthermore, a changing climate has resulted in substantially hotter and drier conditions, making large fires much easier to start.
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