If you are planning to come to Grant County Oregon this summer for the solar eclipse, there is one feature of life around here that you absolutely must keep in mind.
Grant County can experience large, fast moving wildfires and August is right in the middle of our fire season. In 2014 on July 31 a lightning strike started a fire on the South Fork of the John Day river. It burned more than 60 thousand acres (~24,000 hectares) and lasted until October. In 2015 on August 12 a fire south of Canyon City burned 110,000 acres consuming 40 homes in the process and again lasted until October. Last year, on July 31 a fire east of Prairie City burned more than 40,000 acres and lasted until late September.
We are not trying to scare you or discourage you from coming but this is something you should be aware of, especially if you are one of the many people who plan on dispersed camping in one of the national forests. If you are planning on camping the first thing is to be prepared. The best source for accurate maps of the national forests is the Forest Service.
Use "Find By Forest." to select the appropriate map(s). Grant County is mostly Malheur National Forest but parts of the Ochoco, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman national forests are in Grant County too. I recommend the $10 recreational maps as being the most useful. A GPS can be handy but I have found consumer grade units to be unreliable in the woods.
During the eclipse event no open fires will be allowed and all campers are strongly encouraged to have at least a five gallon bucket of water handy. Generators need to be professionally mounted inside the vehicle, inside a pickup bed cleared of flammables or in the middle of a 6'(2m) diameter area that has been cleared of vegetation down to bare dirt or rock. If you are a smoker, you need to be extremely careful with your smoking materials and restrict your smoking to areas which are bare dirt or rock. Propane or electric devices are ok.
Sparks from automobiles have started fires. If you have any kind of motor vehicle you need to avoid any dragging metal like safety chains or exhaust pipes. Brake pads which have worn down to the metal can make sparks and have started fires. Be aware of the undergrowth where you park your vehicle. Stay on cleared roads, driving anything motorized cross-country is forbidden.
Grant County is high desert and the average precipitation in August is .63 inches (16mm). Once a fire gets started in late summer here, it can move very fast. As you are going in to your campsite make plans for how to get out quickly. If you are camping out in the woods and you see signs of fire anywhere near you, MOVE. Get back to pavement as quickly as possible. If you wait until you know for certain that you are in danger, it could be too late.
Wherever you camp, you probably will be beyond cell phone range. This area is served by Verizon only so your phone may not work anyway. Try to let someone know where you are and when you expect to return. I strongly urge you to get a good AM radio. If you are close enough to the town of John Day you can listen to KJDY(1400 AM) and it will keep you posted on local conditions. If you are outside the range of KJDY, you should be able to get a news station from outside the area which will let you know if something big happens.
I do not want to be too alarming. Even though we have had several large fires in recent years, as far as I know, no one has lost their life. And even when we do have a fire most of Grant County is not burning. You can check here
for information about camping on public lands. It will be updated regularly until the eclipse.
The key will be preparation. I know many of you will be from a different environment where fire is not so very easy to start and so very hard to stop. Please Be extra careful while you are here. If you are not an experienced camper, double check before you come that you have everything you will need. There are many things that are hard to find around here at the best of times. Water will be in short supply. Bring enough or a purifier. The sunlight is intense, cover up or you will get burned.
We are having an unusually wet spring (as of April) but it is impossible now to predict what late summer will be like. The odds are that the sky in late morning on the 21st of August will be blue and cloudless. The local citizens are already doing everything they can to make sure That if you come you will have a safe and enjoyable experience. I would like to specially thank Mark Howell, Fire Prevention Officer for the Malheur National Forest for much of the information in this issue of theGazette