September 26, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Deer hunters hoping to use all- terrain vehicles in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest this weekend received some good news Thursday.

Forest Service officials announced that fire-use restrictions for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest are being lifted because of recent rainfall. This means that hunters will be able to use their ATVs in some off-road areas.

The restriction was lifted two days before deer season opens. The controlled, limited-entry hunt begins Saturday and runs through Oct. 10.

The fire restrictions had previously prohibited the use of an ATV more than 300 feet from a road in the Wallowa-Whitman.

The lifting of restrictions also means that campfires, smoking and the use of chain saws will be allowed in the forest.

Hunters are still urged to exercise extreme caution.

We are asking people to still be careful. It is still dry and fire season is not over, said Kathy Smith, a U.S. Forest Service fire prevention specialist.

The Oregon Department of Forestry still has fire restrictions in effect on state and private lands in Northeast Oregon.

The restriction means that no open fires of any kind are allowed and motor vehicles are not allowed off roads.

No chain saws can be used from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and smoking is prohibited except in closed vehicles.

For the latest information on Oregon Department of Forestry fire regulations call 963-3168.

Fire restrictions are still in effect for the Umatilla National Forest. No vehicles can be driven off roads or developed trails. No campfires, wood stoves or briquette fires are allowed except in designated campsites. The campsites where campfires are allowed will be posted.

Smoking is allowed only in enclosed vehicles and buildings on the Umatilla.

For the latest information on fire restrictions in the Umatilla call 1-877-958-9663.

Restrictions are still in place in the Umatilla despite recent rainfall. The northern half of the forest has received little rain.