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Bonfires OK despite tight fire restrictions

As far as Port of Brookings Harbor Director Ted Fitzgerald is concerned, Fourth of July revelers are free to have bonfires on the beach at Sporthaven.

“It’s business as usual on Sporthaven Beach,” he said Tuesday after a meeting between port and Coos Forest Protection Association officials. Fire restrictions were enacted earlier than usual this year because of dangerously dry conditions. In the past, CFPA officials have held off putting them in place until after the Fourth of July.

Additionally, numerous agencies have jurisdiction over the beaches, including Oregon State Parks, the port, Curry County Sheriff and the CFPA. And depending on the weather — the area just received three days of rain after weeks of hot temperatures and high winds — various agencies can impose additional fire restrictions.

“According to the newest (park) ranger, the port has jurisdiction on the dry part of the beach above the tideline,” Fitzgerald said. “And as far as the port is concerned, we are not restricting anything.”

Sporthaven Beach, located off Lower Harbor Road, is arguably the most popular viewing site for the Fourth of July fireworks that are shot off the south jetty. The RV park is full for the weekend, Fitzgerald said, and hundreds of revelers will arrive by car, bike and foot, and many others will be staying in local hotels, RV parks and the campground adjacent to the jetty.

Fires are not permitted at Harris Beach State Park, and signs there and at other state beaches are posted to alert people of the ban.

 Fitzgerald admitted prohibiting bonfires — much less enforcement of a ban — at Sporthaven beach that night could be problematic.

“We all need to be realistic in our application of our laws and rules,” he said. “I’d be more than happy if we didn’t allow fires on the beach, because fires only cause me problems. But that’s just me, and it’s not all about me.”

Illegal fireworks — anything that leaves the ground — will not be permitted on port property, including the boardwalk and the beach.

“(CFP) is now saying fireworks are a regulated use, so there’s no fireworks allowed anywhere,” Fitzgerald said. “They said, ‘Is that going to be a problem?’ I said, ‘That’s going to be a problem, not just for me, but for you!’ That’s a big tradition to break. They don’t have enough people to keep people from lighting fireworks.

“Those are the rules, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to see fires and fireworks on Sporthaven Beach.”

Part of the duties required of Oregon’s port are to provide access to area amenities to allow people to relax and enjoy themselves.

“That’s what we’re supposed to be doing as a social contract between the port and the public,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not to deprive them of every benefit just for the benefit of (any given) agency. The port got that beach for a reason: providing it for access for everyone. That’s what we intend to do now.”

Local hotels are already filling up for the three-day holiday weekend, and events are focused on the port’s boardwalk and the jetty fireworks, sponsored by the local post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“Everything’s looking good,” said Fitzgerald, who was en route to select a pig for his annual pig roast on the port boardwalk. “We’re chock full for the Fourth. It’ll be a good one.”

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