A corridor that runs from the Oregon Coast to the Idaho border is prime real estate for those seeking clear skies to experience the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.
This zone of totality–more than 60 miles wide–also is fire country that has been baking through intense summer heat. As of Saturday, at least four significant blazes were burning in or close to the zone, and overnight lightning ignited more in advance of cooler weather.
Wildfires and smoky skies are a serious wild card as Oregon prepares for eclipse watchers. Oregon officials estimate that as many as 1 million people could converge on the state, creating record traffic jams and vastly complicating responses to fires or any other emergencies.
"We are working with all the fire agencies to be strategic about where resources are staged," said Nathan Garibay, emergency services manager for Deschutes County in central Oregon. "But please don't park on roadsides, because that could easily create a situation where there is no place for emergency vehicles to go. And be patient."
At the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, another place that will draw visitors, fire crews worked in recent days to contain a fire just north of the zone of totality. The blaze destroyed several structures and threatened 140 homes as it burned through juniper, grass and dense stands of ponderosa pine.
Fire maps Saturday also marked blazes south of Antelope, a town in central Oregon in the zone of totality. By Saturday, the lightning strikes, along with forecast winds, helped push the region to the highest of five levels that help assign firefighting resources, according to John Saltenberger, fire- weather program manager for the Portland-based Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.
Aside from the safety risks of fires, smoke could frustrate those seeking a clear view of the Aug. 21 midmorning eclipse as the moon passes between the sun and the Earth. The sun will go dark about 10:20 a.m. local time.
In the viewing areas near fires, winds could flush out much of the smoke, but it could still linger in low spots.
"My advice for people would be to avoid valley bottoms (the morning of the 21st) and be in wide-open areas," Saltenberger said.
The chances of smoky skies are much lower in Western Oregon. But there's a greater possibility of morning clouds west of the Cascades, Saltenberger said.
Both sides of the state will share in the snarled traffic.
Oregon and Washington transportation officials warn people to come early and stay late. Consider the eclipse to be at least a three-day event.
"We have been hearing about the possibility of a lot of people coming down from Puget Sound really early Monday morning of the 21st," said Don Hamilton, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation. "They need to plan ahead."
For many Western Washington motorists, the shortest routes to the zone of totality, where day will turn briefly to night, require them to cross the Columbia River on bridges that already are huge traffic bottlenecks during weekday Portland-area rush hours.
On the morning of the eclipse, traffic could back up for miles through southwest Washington. "We could see a huge rush of people and long delays," said Bart Treece, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Oregon businesses planning to cater to visitors have been stocking up on supplies, but there are concerns of shortages.
"It's hard to gear up for something that we haven't ever been through so it's kind of a roll of a dice," said Dawn Stecher, assistant manager at Ericksons Thriftway in Madras, a central Oregon community of less than 7,000 at the center of the totality zone.