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Normal fire season predicted for Northwest with one big catch - the solar eclipse

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A wet winter and spring are not expected to translate to fewer Northwest wildfires this summer, according to a group of state and federal wildfire and climate experts.

Officials with Portland’s Northwest Interagency Coordination Center held an open house Thursday morning to discuss recent weather and the outlook for the season.

Fire Weather Program Manager John Saltenberger said Oregon and Washington residents can expect a typical fire season with little fire activity in the early summer and some large wildfires in late summer.

The unusually wet start to the year should help delay the start of fire season, but Saltenberger said that’s also normal for the Northwest and fires are not usually typical in May and June.

While officials said it’s impossible to perfectly predict the magnitude of a fire season, they are betting on one summer weekend to be particularly risky - the days surrounding the solar eclipse.

Saltenberger predicted that up to a million people could flock to Oregon for the celestial event and that many will choose camping or other recreation activities in the woods.

“We are going to have a lot of people in a manner similar to a holiday weekend out there,” he said. “I can’t help but imagine the sheer number of people in the outdoors on that day is going to result in extra numbers of fire starts. It’s inevitable.”

MORE: State agencies worry solar eclipse crowds could increase chances of wildfires

Northwest Interagency Coordination Center data shows human and lightning-caused fires over the last 10 years in the region have been just about split, with slightly more human-caused fires.

Saltenberger said emergency and fire managers are already conducting drills to prepare for the solar eclipse, and will likely have extra firefighting resources staged strategically around the state in anticipation for that weekend.

Officials at the open house also encouraged people to think about defensible space as they look forward to summer. Homeowners should clear brush, pine needles, and other flammable fuels from their property and roofs to help protect from fire.

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