State agencies worry solar eclipse crowds could increase chances - KPTV - FOX 12

State agencies worry solar eclipse crowds could increase chances of wildfires

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PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

With the second wettest winter in more than 75 years behind us, many state agencies are now trying to figure out if all that rain and snow will wind up reducing the potential for wildfires this summer.

But, to analyze that risk, they may now have to factor in the solar eclipse. 

There's no perfect formula to calculate the risk for wildfire in any year. But, the Oregon Bureau of Land Management always tries to predict the potential for danger to plan and prepare any way they can.  

"I really don't put too much on what the preceding winter like, it has influence, but the weather during the season is what really makes an influence," said BLM Fire Weather Program Manager John Saltenberger. 

For that reason, Saltenberger believes the rain and snow that slammed the region all winter long won't wind up erasing the potential for wildfires all together, but it will impact when and where fires will burn. 

"We track the snow melt and temps," said Saltenberger. "Because it's very wet, we don't anticipate much of a threat of the large costly type fires for this region until after July 4 at earliest." 

After that point in the summer, things get to be more unpredictable. The weather will likely dry out, meaning conditions ripen for fire. 

Variables like random lighting strikes come in to play as ignition sources.  

But, this year Saltenberger considers an even bigger wild card to be the upcoming total solar eclipse. Not the astronomical event itself, rather the crowds of people the solar eclipse will draw out. 

"More people in the woods means more accidental fires," Saltenberger added. 

It just so happens the historic solar eclipse falls around a time in the year when Saltenberger predicts fire danger will reach its height.

A troubling thought to the BLM, because people from all over the world are planning to trek out to campsites across Oregon to catch the ultimate view of when the moon passes between the earth and the sun. Many who may be inexperienced in the woods. 

"There's a number of training exercises underway to deal with sheer number of people anticipated to come to Oregon for the eclipse in August," said Saltenberger. "At this time I don't have any historical relationships between that many people in the forest and the greater potential for fire, although I can't imagine it's zero." 

Saltenberger says people are always a factor for sparking wildfires in general, in fact last year, they were the top factor. He added that he wouldn't be surprised to see some counties enforce a fire ban in the week leading up to the solar eclipse for that reason. 

"I always urge folks to be careful with fire out there no matter what, the number of abandoned fires after holiday weekend its astonishing," Saltenberger said.

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