Our Northwest

How Heceta Head Lighthouse preps for winter

Friday, December 19, 2014by  Jon Osterberg

Story No. 7, last in a series
   Just as you winterize your home, Northwest landmarks get prepped for winter, too.
   That includes Heceta Head Lighthouse, a 121-year-old beacon for mariners near the middle of the Oregon coast.
   At Heceta, winterizing is factored into its very design more so than being an annual rite of autumn chores.
   Heceta Head Lighthouse was built in 1893, rising 205 feet above the ocean on a bluff 12 miles north of Florence. The lens atop its 56-foot tower casts the brightest light on the Oregon coast, seen 21 miles from land.
   Oregon Parks completed a full lighthouse restoration in 2013, made necessary by more than a century of harsh weather and disrepair.
   Because of Heceta's coastal location, it freezes infrequently. High winds and pounding rain are the big concerns.
   "We typically have 70 to 90-mph winds each winter with storms," said Debra Edwards, Heceta park ranger. "Since it's designed for high winds, the lighthouse is pretty stout."
   Its brick exterior design is conical, wider at the base than the top, which helps shed winds.
   And when it does freeze, frozen pipes are not a concern since the lighthouse has no running water.
   "The only utility at the lighthouse is electric power, which runs underground," Edwards said.
   Heceta Head's ever-present dampness can bring rust and decay. Restoration workers removed the lighthouse's cement stucco that had sealed in moisture, installed new windows, repaired masonry and woodwork, and painted.
   "We use dehumidifiers to dry things out in the summer and heat in the winter to keep moisture levels under control," Edwards said, noting that the restoration improved air flow in the tower.
   When first built, Heceta was one of several lighthouses that mariners relied on for navigation. Today, navigation is electronic, so Heceta and other lighthouses serve as backups and reference points.
   You get a sense of how strong the winds are at Heceta Head when you check the weather records. During the Columbus Day storm of 1962, gusts hit 138 mph in Newport, 38 miles north. And Edwards said Sea Lion Caves, just 2 miles from Heceta Head Lighthouse, once recorded 125 mph.

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