‘Worst fire danger of the year:’ ODF warns of hazardous conditions in Tillamook Forest for Labor Day weekend and beyond

“We’re looking at our worst fire danger of the year,” said Oregon Department of Forestry Forest Grove District Forester Mike Cafferata in a phone call with the Banks Post on Tuesday morning. 

“People might feel the colder nights which are really nice, but unfortunately the fuels are really dry and there’s this big dry air mat coming in,” he said. “It really gets bad Thursday, Friday, all weekend, and probably the peak will be next Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday actually. It continues to get bad for the next week and a half,” he said. 

Cafferata also said his agency has concerns about a potential dry east wind that could arise next week, which would compound the dry fuels and high temperatures expected in the coming 10 or so days. 

“People should recognize that conditions are different, it’s going to be super dry, and be careful. It’s a better weekend for a backyard barbecue than going to the forest,” he said. 

The Portland branch of the National Weather Service shows temperatures climbing into the 80’s and then the upper 90’s over the coming days and Labor Day weekend. 

The district is keeping an eye on the forecast and is likely to bump the current “high” fire danger status to “extreme,” a move that comes with additional restrictions and closures on what the general public can do in lands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry, such as the Tillamook State Forest and surrounding region, and also is looking at moving the current Industrial Fire Precaution Level from 2 to 3 in zones NW-2 and NW-3 for commercial operations, such as logging. That IFPL designation restricts many resource extraction and logging activities to hours between 8 p.m. and 1 p.m. to ensure that the hottest hours of the day are left without potential fire-causing activities. 

For current fire restrictions for the general public, visit gisapps.odf.oregon.gov/firerestrictions/PFR.html. Those looking for industrial use restrictions should visit gisapps.odf.oregon.gov/firerestrictions/ifpl.html.

That move to “extreme” fire danger is likely to come Thursday, should his agency determine it’s a prudent move, while a determination on IFPL is being discussed Tuesday and Wednesday, and should it be enacted, could be in effect on Thursday. 

“If we go to extreme, that will close the trails to the off road vehicles, and there’ll be no campfires in any other locations, and really we’d discourage anybody from doing activities that can cause fires. Target shooting in particular is one we’ve had real trouble with here,” he said. 

Cafferata noted that a few gates had been installed and continue to be installed on some forest roads, which would allow ODF crews to close parts of the forest and restrict movement in certain parts of the Tillamook State Forest to reduce the risk of wildfires breaking out for the duration of this hot weather event.