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Friday, October 6, 2017

Campaign to educate eclipse visitors about Oregon’s fire season paid off in fewer wildfires

Above: Visitors coming to Oregon for the Aug. 21 eclipse were made aware
 of wildfire risks in a statewide campaign this summer. The campaign
likely contributed to a temporary dip in human-caused wildfires during
a two-week period around the eclipse.
SALEM, Ore. — Fears that an influx of people coming to see the solar eclipse in Oregon on Aug. 21 might spark more wildfires didn’t come to pass. In fact, at least on the 16 million acres protected from fire by the Oregon Department of Forestry, the period just before and after the eclipse actually saw fewer human-caused wildfires than normal.

Emergency management planners had estimated as many as a million visitors might come to Oregon for the eclipse. The timing – right at the peak of wildfire season in mid-August – could not have been worse from the viewpoint of wildfire officials. That raised fears that the best viewing locations in the path of totality – fire-prone central and eastern Oregon – would see a spike in wildfires just when resources would be stretched thinnest.

Those concerns prompted ODF to support a vigorous wildfire prevention campaign in conjunction with:

·       Keep Oregon Green

·       Oregon Office of Emergency Management

·       Oregon State Parks

·       Travel Oregon

·       Oregon Department of Transportation

·       Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal

·       Oregon State Police

·       American Red Cross

·       U.S. Forest Service

·       Bureau of Land Management

The campaign included 19 billboards; messaging signs along highways, Portland airport and malls; TV and radio ads; placemats in restaurants; and websites, Facebook and other media platforms.

“We asked visitors to enjoy the eclipse but be careful not to start a wildfire,” says Keep Oregon Green President Kristin Babbs. “

Although fewer people than the expected one million traveled to the path of totality, the hundreds of thousands who did come should have led to increased fire starts. Instead, it appears the campaign’s messaging worked. There was no increase in wildfires on ODF-protected land around the time of the eclipse. Not only that, but during the week before and the week after the eclipse, wildfire starts statewide on those lands were actually lower. There were just 62 human-caused wildfire starts during those two weeks compared to 77 starts in 2015, and much lower than the 89 starts in 2016. Human-caused wildfire starts were also lower than the 10-year average of 70.

In the most fire-prone part of the path of totality – central Oregon – there were only three wildfire starts during the two-week influx of eclipse visitors. That was the lowest number for that period since 2008. And it was only half the 10-year average of six wildfire starts on ODF-protected land in central Oregon during those same two weeks.

“We’re happy visitors and Oregonians heeded messages to obey fire restrictions and campfire bans, and to not pull off highways onto dry grass to view the eclipse,” says Babbs. “Every wildfire we prevented was one less destroying resources and putting smoke in the air.”

The careful behavior around the time of the eclipse is even more impressive when viewed against the increase in human-caused wildfires during the 2017 fire season. On ODF-protected land, the number of human-caused wildfires from the start of the year through Sept. 30 was 684, well above the 10-year average of 611. So while humans in 2017 have caused about 12 percent more wildfires than the 10-year average, they caused fewer around the time of the eclipse.

Given the heavy demand on firefighting resources this summer in Oregon and across the West, the dip in new fires around the eclipse was a relief to fire officials. They were already fully engaged before the eclipse with a dozen or more large wildfires on both sides of the Cascades. After eclipse visitors left, more fires started. Through Sept. 30, the Northwest Interagency Coordinating Center has reported a total of more than 70 large wildfires in Oregon.
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The purpose of this blog is to provide breaking news about wildfire activity on the forestlands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry. We invite you to post questions or comments about current wildfires. Please keep your posts civil and free of profanity.

Current wildfire info

National weather forecasters predictions that Oregon would see above average temperatures and below average rainfall in the summer of 2018 proved true. Almost all of Oregon was abnormally dry this summer, with a majority of the state in moderate to severe drought. Many areas posted record high temperatures or record strings of hot days. These conditions set the stage for potentially large, fast-moving wildfires.

What we do

Protection jurisdiction
The Oregon Dept. of Forestry protects 16 million acres of private and public forestlands from wildfire. This includes all private forestlands in Oregon as well as state and local government-owned forests, along with 2.8 million acres of federal Bureau of Land Management lands in the western part of the state. In total there are about 30.4 million acres of forest in Oregon.

Fire suppression policy
The department fights fire aggressively, seeking to put out most fires at 10 acres or smaller. This approach minimizes damage to the timber resource and fish and wildlife habitat, and protects lives and property. It also saves money. While suppressing large fires can cost millions of dollars, economic and environmental damage from wildfires can be many times greater.


About Me

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Oregon Dept. of Forestry's public information officers in Salem, Ore., maintain this blog. During the wildfire season, we spend much of our time reporting on fires and firefighting to news media and the public.