August 13, 2001 11:00 pm

By The Observer

Various area and state governmental agencies are stepping up their preparation for wildfire suppression in view of Oregons continuing hot and dry weather.

The Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla and Malheur national forests are considering implementing public use restrictions at midnight Thursday if weather conditions persist, the U.S. Forest Service announced Monday in Baker City.

In Salem, Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a state of emergency in order to be able to call up some Oregon National Guard members for forest fire suppression.

And the Northeast Oregon District of the Oregon Department of Forestry is imposing fire closures.

If the Forest Service restrictions are implemented, the following activities would be prohibited on national forests: building campfires outside of developed campgrounds; travel off developed forest roads and trails; smoking; and use of chainsaws, generators, or other internal combustion engines.

On the same date, the Industrial Fire Precaution would increase to Level III, which prohibits certain industrial operations between 1 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Steady hot and dry weather with day temperatures in the upper 90s is rapidly

decreasing fuel moisture at lower elevations throughout the forest, said Nick Greear, Wallowa-Whitman fire management officer. Under these conditions, the potential for human- caused fires increases due to forest recreation and woodcutting activities.

To prevent wildfires, Greear urges forest visitors to use caution when building and maintaining campfires and to make sure the campfire is completely out when leaving the site. Woodcutters must observe the one-hour fire watch after the chainsaw is shut down.

Greear said forest users should get an update on possible public use restrictions from their local Forest Service office before planning a trip to the forest.

People seeking information on fire restrictions in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest should call the local ranger district office or the forest headquarters office at 541-523-6391; in the Umatilla National Forest call 541-278-3716; and in the Malheur National Forest call 541-575-3000.

For lands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry, they should call 541-963-3168.

Kitzhabers declaration of a state of emergency due to wildfires enables him to call up 200 members of the Oregon National Guard after members complete a short refresher course. They were trained during the 2000 fire season.

The declaration was necessary because heavy lightning strikes over the past three days have stretched existing firefighting personnel and equipment to the limit, the governors office said.