CANNON BEACH — Wanting to escape the city, a hiker makes his way to Ecola Creek Forest Reserve for a walk through the woods, but instead finds the entrance blocked. “Land closed to public entry due to high fire danger,” reads a posted sign, by order of the city manager.
The Oregon Department of Forestry may have Clatsop County’s fire warning level set at moderate, but Cannon Beach isn’t taking any chances.
“We’ve always closed it down at some point during the year because there’s definitely points in time it gets dry,” City Manager Brant Kucera said.
Cannon Beach purchased the first 120 acres of the reserve in 1999, and the rest in 2009, according to the North Coast Land Conservancy.
This year, closure of the 1,040-acre forest reserve came early — right around Independence Day — following the advice of the Oregon Department of Forestry and Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue.
Also closed is Cannon Beach’s South Wind site, 58 acres reserved for “essential” city facilities east of Highway 101.
Cannon Beach Fire Chief Mike Balzer said his department’s recommendation to close the reserve early this month was based on dry weather conditions and the influx of Fourth of July holiday visitors.
Fireworks and dangers from campers or transients building campfires in commercial timber areas were also matters of concern, Kucera said.
Typically, the Ecola Creek Forest Reserve closure occurs in August or September.
“It’s been very dry, very early,” Kucera said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
According to Clinton Rockey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland, the Cannon Beach area has only received about .02 inches of rain this month, around .66 inches below normal. Rockey based his estimate on Astoria and Seaside data, and added that Astoria had .73 inches of rain in June, 1.82 inches below normal. All of Clatsop County has been dry.
“The light showers we have don’t really do anything,” Balzer said, adding it would take significant rain to reopen the reserve. “It could be awhile.”
Last year, Ecola Creek closed for about three weeks, Public Works Director Dan Grassick said.
Kucera said Cannon Beach would need at least half an inch of precipitation in one rain event to open Ecola Creek Forest Reserve back up this year.
“There’s not much chance of that happening soon,” Rockey said.
In the meantime, Kucera said officials want to safeguard the public and protect forestlands and wildlife. There’s also the issue of liability.
If a fire started in the city-owned Ecola Creek Forest Reserve and spread to commercial timberlands, Cannon Beach could be held liable. The person who started the fire, even if accidentally, could also be held accountable for firefighting costs.
So any who pass that red sign and are discovered on the property will likely be fined for trespassing, Kucera said.
“In my opinion, we’re very lucky to not have had any forest fires yet,” he added.