The full solar eclipse that will swoop across the United States on August 21 is exciting enough to draw up to 130 million people out to see the sun go dark. Unfortunately, this rush also poses a risk to our nation's wildlands.
There aren’t many cities located on the eclipses's optimal viewing path. While that's a boon to many of the smaller communities in those areas, it also means large crowds entering forests, grasslands, and deserts, such as those found in our nation’s national parks, to camp and otherwise get their eclipse fix.
This is why the Oregon Department of Forestry tweeted out an image to remind people to enjoy the scene, but to also stay vigilant about preventing wildfires.
“What that image is showing is the ten-year average for our fires and where the path of the eclipse falls,” Bobbi Doan, a public information officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry, told PopSci. “We're just trying to raise awareness to show folks that this is where we've seen high fire activity in the past, and to help push prevention across the board.” The department is concerned because a single catastrophic mistake can trigger a catastrophic wildfire.
Although most forest fires are caused by lightning strikes, Oregon has seen a 12-percent increase in human-caused wildfires.
But it doesn’t take much to spark a fire. If conditions are dry enough, driving over grass can be enough if the conditions are dry enough. And Oregon isn’t the only place where that’s the case these days: The high plains, including parts of Nebraska, are both located along the eclipse's path and are unusually dry right now.
“Find out where you’re headed and definitely look for fire restrictions, because a lot of folks are going to have bans on campfire,” says Doan. "You need to know ahead of time whether or not you’ll be able to light a campfire —or even use your camp stove.“