Tourists and motorists are expected to flock to Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming to witness the total solar eclipse next week. The surge of people is also expected to clog roads and to further strain the already scarce resources of forest rangers and fire managers, as the event will take place during the height of summer wildfire season when they stand on high alert.
Tens of thousands of eclipse enthusiasts will drive to the rugged, remote national forests and rangelands from the Cascades to the Northern Rockies. Authorities are wary and concerned about high potential for fires occurring in forests and viewing locations. Officers face the daunting and unprecedented challenge from the huge crowds descending in a region swathed in tinder-dry vegetation susceptible to ignition from possible unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes and hot tailpipes.
U.S. Forest Service ranger Kurt Nelson, who works in the Sawtooth National Forest near the upscale resort of Sun Valley in central Idaho said they’ll be ready as “it’s all hands on deck.”
As it is, at this time of the year lightning-sparked wildfires are common. Add in crowds and potential careless, if not reckless, spectators and tourists, and it may be a recipe for danger and disaster. In case of forest fires, crowds who may get in harm’s way need to be evacuated. U.S. fire managers last week raised the country’s wildfire readiness status to its highest for the first time in two years, saying there’s also heightened danger from thunderstorms.
There’s also public safety issue on drifting plumes of smoke, even coming from distant blazes that may end up obscuring the views of eclipse watchers on a supposedly clear day.
It will be helpful for the public to be warned about the big possibility of fires occurring while viewing the big event. Tourists and spectators are also asked to do their part in avoiding fires due to human negligence, and not contribute to the prospect of disasters that could ruin their viewing pleasure and their holidays.
The much-anticipated August 21 event marks the first total solar eclipse visible anywhere in the lower 48 states since 1979. Reuters also said it will be the first in the wide span of 99 years covering the entire continental United States, offering a brief glimpse of the sun completely blotted out - except for the corona of its outer atmosphere - across a 70-mile- (113-km-) wide, coast-to-coast path through 14 states.
Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming are the first three states traversed by the narrow 2,500-mile (4,000-km) "path of totality," mostly through rural areas not used to heavy traffic.