|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.
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.# # #