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Drought over, but eclipse event will raise fire danger

John Saltenberger, a fire weather program manager at the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, will make suggestions to the state about what, if any, fire restrictions there should be during August's solar eclipse. (KATU Photo)

A surge of people coming to Oregon to view the solar eclipse will raise fire danger in the state, a fire forecaster told KATU.

“The solar eclipse looks like it's going to come right at the height of fire season. The first couple of weeks in August are traditionally the driest and the hottest over the Pacific Northwest. Correspondingly, fire danger is the highest,” said John Saltenberger, a fire weather program manager at the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

Saltenberger tracks fire conditions. Wildfires, he said, are caused by a combination of factors, including weather and an ignition source. Oregon may be drought-free, but he said, a high concentration of people in one area raises the threat of a wildfire.

According to the National Park Service, 90 percent of wildfires in the United States are caused by humans, from unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes or arson.

Close to a million people are expected to travel to Oregon to witness a rare solar eclipse in August. Many are expected to camp.

“It's unprecedented,” he said.

Saltenberger makes recommendations to the state on what fire restrictions to make in the state. In past years, campfires, barbecue fires and fireworks have been banned.

In the months, weeks and days leading to the eclipse, Saltenberger said he would make suggestions based on fire danger risk. He said it is likely that he will make those recommendations as it gets closer to the event.

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