SALEM, Ore. - Here in Oregon, we are counting down the days to an amazing celestial event. The United States is the only country which will experience the total solar eclipse and Oregon will be the first state where it can be viewed.
Federal, state, and county agencies have spent a great deal of time in recent months preparing for the challenges associated with this event -- traffic congestion, food and fuel availability, and cell phone reception to name a few. But the one overwhelming concern that all agencies involved share is wildfire. The eclipse is occurring at the peak of Oregon's fire season. As many as a million visitors are coming here to watch it.
Thousands will be camping in open fields, forests and campgrounds hoping to get a good view under clear skies. Everyday activities already cause the majority of Oregon wildfires, and the risk will sharply increase when these additional visitors head onto the landscape all at the same time.
"Oregon residents have high expectations that tourists coming to view the eclipse will be respectful and leave our landscapes as beautiful as they found them," says Kristin Babbs, president of the Keep Oregon Green Association, a wildfire prevention organization. "That said, it's a tall order for visitors to fill; our own residents are having a hard time preventing wildfire starts themselves."
To date, Oregonians have been responsible for starting 636 fires. "Last week alone, the Oregon Department of Forestry reported 32 fire starts that burned over 450 acres. They were caused by equipment, illegal debris burning, smoking and the dumping of hot coals," she said.
August is always a dangerous month for wildfire starts in Oregon because fuels are at their driest. The fire danger level is high or extreme in many areas of the state. Any accidental spark or stray ember can start a fire that can spread rapidly.
Two-thirds of the wildfires in Oregon are started by people, so it is extremely important to check the fire restrictions where you plan to work or play, and be sure that you are prepared to put a fire out should one get started.
Any careless act can get traction: a campfire left smoldering; the whirling metal blades of a lawnmower striking a rock; a cigarette tossed from a vehicle; or a hot car idling over tall, dry grass.
If you are traveling the roads, carry the essentials: a shovel and a gallon of water or a charged and operational fire extinguisher in case you need to be your own firefighter. In fact, these items are required in your vehicle in many areas. If traffic comes to a standstill during the eclipse, fire engine response time may be delayed.
One careless act can destroy thousands of acres -- not to mention your bank account. Anyone responsible for starting a fire, accidental or not, may be liable for fire suppression costs as well as the cost of damage to neighboring property owners.
"Our everyday actions impact the landscape and the lives of the firefighters who work tirelessly to protect them. Predict the outcome of your behaviors. Predictable is preventable," said Babbs.
The Keep Oregon Green Association offers common-sense advice and important information on how to prevent fires when traveling through, camping and recreating in Oregon's scenic areas. Go to www.keeporegongreen.org or @keeporegongreen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.