If you’re thinking of heading out to Avila for a bonfire at Olde Port Beach, don’t wait too long.
The extreme drought, bone-dry vegetation and anticipated warm winds pose a fire risk and have prompted Port San Luis Harbor Manager Steve McGrath to order that the 10 fire rings be removed much earlier than usual.
Conditions on the hillsides above the harbor are so dry that fire danger is extreme, he said.
“It would be too easy for embers to blow onto the hills, especially given the wind conditions we usually get in the fall,” McGrath wrote in an email.
“I am very aware of how popular the fire rings are, and I don’t do this lightly,” he added. “Some may argue that I should take them off now, but I’m trying to balance recreation and risk.”
The fire rings are normally installed on the beach in April and removed just after Thanksgiving so that they aren’t damaged by storms or high tides during the winter.
This year, the rings will be removed after Labor Day — that’s Sept. 1.
In addition, as of Aug. 4, campers at Port San Luis have been banned from bringing any sort of fire pit or outdoor cooking device unless it is gas with a functional on/off control switch.
Smoking is also prohibited on the Harford and Avila Beach piers. McGrath said there were a few designated smoking areas on the Harford pier on concrete or steel plates, but after a close call on Aug. 6, the smoking ban has been extended to those spots as well.
Harbor district employees had to remove some wood decking after flames were reported about 5 p.m. near the end of the pier. Cal Fire officials believe it was caused by a cigarette, McGrath said.
Windy conditions are a particular concern — as an example, McGrath pointed to a brush fire that happened in summer 2012, which burned several acres on Ontario Ridge above Pirate’s Cove and nearly destroyed cellphone towers and emergency communications equipment on the ridge.
The cause was determined to be a sky lantern that originated in another area, blew to Cave Landing and started a fire. The following year, county supervisors banned lanterns from unincorporated areas; similar restrictions are in place in Los Osos and Pismo Beach.
“It was indicative to us how far something could travel because it was believed that the lantern had come from the north and was blown in that direction because of the winds,” McGrath said. “When fire conditions are right, it takes nothing to get a fire going.”