BEND, OR -- August is typically the busiest month for Oregon wildfire crews, and the solar eclipse is adding another layer of complexity to this year's fire season. Central Oregon's season has, so far, been fairly average; officials say many local fires have been kept small thanks to the quick response by crews. But, those resources could be stretched thin later this month, as the season heats up just in time for the eclipse.
Kassidy Kern, with the Deschutes National Forest, says the agency will pull in additional resources from other states, to make sure there are enough firefighters, planes and other equipment in the area to respond at a moment’s notice, in the two weeks surrounding the eclipse. "We call it ‘on severity.’ So, people who are staged and ready from, maybe in Tennessee or Alaska. People that are out of their fire season, but now that we are in ours – You know, this really is the benefit of a national workforce is that you can shift people around." She tells KBND News that in some cases, those crews will camp in the forest to be close to potential trouble spots. "Knowing that we don’t want them to even take the time to go from Scott Street, which is where our main fire building is, out into the forest. We want them to stay there. And, we need to make sure that we have water for them, food for them and fuel for them. So, all of those preparations are really taking place, now."
With so many people planning to "disperse camp" on public land, where reservations aren't needed, it’s hard to know just how many people will venture into the forest to watch the August 21st eclipse. And Kern says, the Forest Service is pushing its message of fire prevention to everyone it can. "At our Deschutes National Forest Facebook page, we’ve gotten some personal messages from people from Asia. You know, those individuals don’t have even reservations now, so there are so many people that are still unaccounted for; people who are completely unfamiliar with English or what fire restrictions mean. And, so we’re hitting it really hard to give those prevention messages so they’re not disperse camping in the middle of the Ochoco National Forest, building a fire that they then can’t control." She says they plan to take a number of steps to inform visitors at every turn, "We will have those boards in the forest, we are coordinating with a number of different agencies in Central Oregon to make sure that there are sandwich boards out at ‘pinch points,’ at areas where people will be congregating. In Sisters, there will be a board at Barclay Square that gives forest information, fire restrictions, ‘pick it in, pack it out’ kind of stuff."
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