BEND, OR -- The August 21 total solar eclipse is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to Central Oregon at the height of wildfire season; and many won't be staying in a hotel or traditional campground, nor are they familiar with the High Desert's extreme fire risk.
Lisa Clark, with the Bureau of Land Management, says with hotels and traditional campgrounds booked, there’s no way to know how many campers will be out on public lands. "What we expect is that people will have looked at websites, they know where the designated campgrounds are; they’re going to try to arrive early to get a site at those, because they’re not reservable. They’re going to find those full and the next best thing is to find some nearby public land where they can camp." She says "Dispersed Camping" is allowed on state and federal public lands with no fee or permit required. Campers can stay on BLM land for up to 14 continuous nights, and they are required to adhere to regulations regarding sanitation and placement of campsites. There is no map of dispersed camp spots and Clark tells KBND News, "We have recognizance planes that normally fly that time of year, they kind of look for any lightning starts and wildfires. We’ll be actually having them document where they see people camping. That’s a really scary thing for us, that we’re going to have to evacuate and we don’t know where people will be."
Campers, whether at a campground or dispersed camping, are responsible for knowing fire restrictions that may be in place at the time. "We’re going to be positioning information centers around Central Oregon," says Clark. "So, as you travel through Prineville, or maybe as you travel through Redmond or Madras - we’ll partner with our local counties/chambers of commerce; we’ll staff these information booths. People can stop by and get information as they head out, and that’s another opportunity for us to provide the ‘no campfire’ message."
What if a wildfire breaks out with so many people spread across the region? The BLM was one of 40 agencies that participated in a recent simulation, to practice how to respond to a large-scale emergency. Clark says one concern is where to house a wildfire response team, "Fortunately, we’ve been able to reserve a middle school in Crook County, so that if we have to bring in a fire team – and we will be bringing in extra firefighters – but if we have to actually bring in a team because we do have a large wildfire, we have a place for them to stay. We’re bringing in extra law enforcement officers, and we’ll be looking at having our staff on extended hours; having them work through the weekend, for example." She says the main focus of all of the planning is to insure visitors have a safe and pleasent eclipse experience, while in Central Oregon.