Hunter-gatherers collected and used various woody species depending on the landscape, availability of plant communities, and sociocultural considerations. With extensive paleo-wetlands and groundwater-fed oases, the Atacama Desert was interspersed with riparian woodlands that provided vital resources (fuel, water, and game) at the end of the Pleistocene in areas such as the Pampa del Tamarugal (PdT) basin. We use anthracological analyses to determine the fuel management strategies of hunter-gatherer societies in this hyperarid environment and explore whether the “Principle of Least Effort” applies. First, we present the combustion qualities and characteristics of woody taxa from the Atacama and analyze possible exploitation strategies. Second, we use anthracological analyses from Quebrada Maní 12 (QM12), a late Pleistocene archaeological site (dated from 12,750 to 11,530 cal B.P.) located in the PdT basin, to show the prevalence of two woody species that were either freshly collected or gathered (very likely on purpose) from subfossil wood. Our results suggest that fuel selection strategies were based on prior knowledge of the qualities of these woody taxa and how they burned. Thus we conclude that fuel management was part of a number of social and economic decisions that allowed for effective colonization of this region. Furthermore, we stress the need for caution when using charcoal to exclusively date archaeological sites located in desert environments.