September 05, 2001 11:00 pm

The cooler temperatures of the past couple of days are a welcome relief after weeks of mostly 90-degree days. But the cooler temperatures arent doing much to reduce the tinder box conditions that exist in forests and grasslands throughout Oregon and especially in Eastern Oregon. We need lots of rain, and until we get it, were going to be at risk of fire. Theres nothing we can do about preventing dry lightning strikes, but we can make sure we do everything possible to eliminate the risk of fire when were in the woods.

The forests federal, state and private are under a regulated closure, meaning that no campfires or charcoal briquette fires are allowed except in designated areas. It also means everyone must carry a shovel, an ax and one gallon of water or a 2.5-pound fire extinguisher at all times. Travel off developed forest roads and trails, smoking and the use of chainsaws, generators or other internal combustion engines are also prohibited.

Keep Oregon Green, a non-profit organization devoted to forest fire prevention, is specifically reminding hunters to be responsible this fall.

During hunting season, our biggest threat is unextinguished campfires, said Gordon Foster, unit forester with the Central Oregon District of the Oregon Department of Forestry. Hunters build warming fires while they wait for game, then when they see something, they dont stop to put out the fire before they pursue the game. Those unextinguished and unattended fires are especially dangerous because a wind could come up, blow an ember into surrounding grasses and create a fire.

Unattended campfires are against the law and perpetrators can be fined and held liable for costs associated with suppression and damage.

Careless smokers also pose a threat considering the conditions that exist. Putting out a cigarette near brush or a decaying stump or log could result in a fire, which is why the Forest Service bans smoking except in vehicles on improved roads. Smokers need to be extremely cautious.

Foster IS REMINDING all hunters and campers to carry a shovel, an ax and a B-4 bucket that is filled with water before a campfire is lit. The water can be used to drown a campfire when its time to leave.

The cause of the Boulevard Fire in the Beaver Creek watershed just a few miles from La Grande has not been determined. But there was no lightning Friday afternoon. We can only hope that the fire, which could have posed significant risk to the community, was not caused by some campers carelessness.

The woods are dry. Anyone who uses the forest when conditions are like they are today must follow the rules and use common sense. Building fires and smoking in these conditions doesnt make sense.