The city of Cannon Beach took extra fire precautions before the state raised the industrial fire precaution level from Level 1 to Level 2 for the Northwest 1 Zone, but Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue still wants visitors and residents to be aware of that increased risk.
The state raised the precaution level on July 30 in response to a dry summer and rising wildfire danger.
“Restrictions are pretty much tight everywhere because of the conditions this year,” said Rod Nichols, an information officer with the Oregon Department of Forestry.
About 620 fires have burned more than 3,300 acres on lands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry and forest protective associations. Of these, 429 have been caused by people.
The Warrenton Fire Department and Oregon Department of Forestry fought a wildfire that scorched 27 acres in Fort Stevens State Park last week.
Cannon Beach Fire Chief Mike Balzer said fire danger for the area will continue to rise if the weather stays on the dry and “hot side.”
Northwest Zone 1 stretches from Astoria to the border between Tillamook and Lincoln counties, including forest lands surrounding Cannon Beach and Seaside.
The city of Cannon Beach closed Ecola Creek Forest Reserve because of the dry weather around the Fourth of July, following the advice of the Oregon Department of Forestry and Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue. Cannon Beach only received .66 inches of rain in July, well below the average of 1.51 inches.
The city reopened the forest reserve on July 29 and considered closing it again until it rained over the weekend, City Manager Brant Kucera said.
Balzer said they fell in line with commercial timber owners by closing their land to the public to reduce fire risks.
There was a matter of public safety and city liability if a fire had started in Ecola Creek and spread to private timberlands, Kucera said.
“It’s dry out there,” Balzer said. “You’ve just gotta be real careful.”
On July 9, Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue sent out a reminder on Facebook about the closure of 2015’s burning season.
That post said fires were only allowed by permit in burn barrels from sunrise to 10 a.m. Open fires are prohibited.
Under Level 2, called Partial Hootowl, power saw use, blasting and welding — among other activities — are allowed only at night, and in the morning and afternoon between the hours of 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Level 2 requires a two-hour fire watch — fire monitoring at least two hours after operations cease.
According to the new precautions, recreational fires are allowed by permit under certain guidelines issued by the Department of Forestry and the Clatsop County Fire Defense Board.
Recreational fires must be at designated campsites, personal residences or beaches and no closer than 50 feet from dune grass or 15 feet from any structures. They must be clear of all combustibles and completely extinguished prior to leaving.
The maximum fire size is three feet in diameter and two feet in height, and the maximum fire pit size is four feet in diameter.
“It is standard for the levels to rise this time of year, but we’re seeing areas at a higher level right now than often times in the past,” Nichols said.
For instance, the Douglas County area is at a Level 4, or general shutdown, “and it’s not very often we get up to a Level 4 in this state,” he said.
A large portion of the state has been in a drought for about three years, with two severe fire seasons last year and in 2013, which was the most expensive fire season in department history, Nichols said.
“We’re really primed to have fires, and if we do get fire starts, it’s likely they’ll spread rapidly because of conditions,” he added. “Right now, the restrictions are fairly tight around the state. We’re in the most active period of the fire season.”
Luckily, Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue hasn’t battled anything large this year, Balzer said.
The department extinguished one small brush fire at the Warren Way gate access. “This was at the start of our very dry season,” Training Officer Matt Gardner said, back in May.
The cause was undetermined and units were able to extinguish it quickly, he noted. But “we remain very proactive in wildfire defense,” he added.
The Department of Forestry and the state Fire Marshal are asking for the public’s cooperation to prevent human-caused fires by reducing fire-prone activities.
“We’re looking at a formidable fire weather forecast,” Oregon State Forester Doug Decker stated in a news release. “The benefit of any recent moisture we’ve received has now evaporated, and we’re looking straight at record-breaking temperatures, extremely low humidities and dry lightning: the trifecta of bad wildfire conditions.”
To view current fire restrictions, visit www.oregon.gov.
All open debris burning is prohibited during the 2015 fire season with two exceptions. Burn barrels are allowed by permit, and metal barrels in good condition, heavy mesh screens, an available water supply and hand-tools are required. Burn barrels only are allowed from daylight to 10 a.m.