This road north of Weiser is dead center in the eclipse path of the totality, its also on the Chandler ranch
Eclipse County Prepares for Worst
Weiser—As the eclipse nears, Washington County officials are bracing for the crush of people expected to gather under the path of eclipse totality.
Next Monday the population of the county could triple and beside that, their biggest fear is wildfire.
“The main thing we’re concerned with is the fire danger and our ability to fight fires. We worry about law enforcement and Emergency Medical Services to meet the needs of people. This is a hard thing to prepare for because we don't know whats going to happen,” said Washington County Commissioner Kirk Chandler.
Chandler says his office could see as many as a 100,000 visitors, another study predicted just 10-thousand. Nonetheless, Chandler says just 10-15-thousand visitors could grid lock tiny Washington County. One study shows that Weiser is the closest eclipse location in the path of totality for the 38-million people living in nearby metro areas Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“It’s frustrating because we don't have any idea how many people, we hear of new groups and more people everyday and we have to plan for that, we hope this week when people start showing up that we can get an idea and plan accordingly,” said Chandler.
After record snowfall and precipitation this spring, tall grass in Washington County is at record levels and in some places is over a foot high. Ranchers met with Commissioners last week. Some wanted to close roads to keep people from touching off wildfires on the range.
“We’ve considered that but most of those road access public lands and it would put the County at a huge liability to close off public lands. The Sheriff is meeting with the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service. The Forest Service is not closing any of their roads, we know people are getting maps and they intend to go there,” said Chandler.
Chandler says in Washington County landowners can post no trespassing signs on their land and protect it, but for the most part roads will be open as usual. Rancher, next door neighbor and son, Cody Chandler says his land is at ground zero. It is touted as the most optimal spot in the Pacific Northwest to view the eclipse.
“My biggest concern is the fact that ground on both sides of the road have fuel loads more than a foot high. This is where we graze our cattle, especially in the fall. A lot of this feed will get us through the middle of winter and there is a lot of fuel for fire. All it takes is a single car pulling off the road with a hot muffler touching off a range fire. I think if it happens, it would be just about unstoppable,” said Cody Chandler.
Chandler urges motorists to stay on the roadside and do not drive off gravel shoulder. If you see tall grass, don’t drive into it.
“Keep hot exhaust pipes and anything that can ignite wildfire away from the tall grass. We will have visitors that have never been around brown grass. A cigarette butt or anything like that could ignite this grass in an instant and it’s our worst fear,” added Chandler.
Commissioner Chandler says his ranch is bordered by two county roads and says he's been burned out in the past because of careless motorists. With all the threats at home and in the county they’re taking no chances next week.
“We’re setting up an Incident Command Center that starts this Friday. We’ll set up HAM radios in case the cell towers get over loaded and we’ll be in touch with the Idaho Command Center. We declared a disaster in our county due to the eclipse way back on the 19th of June just as a precaution,” said Kirk Chandler.
Washington County suffered through a four-month disaster when buildings started collapsing under the weight of deep snow starting last January. The County had 228 buildings collapse and it took out $2.4 million dollars in County assessed value. Their command center operated all winter from the snow and into June with spring flooding.
“We have an idea of what to do, but a fire is much more complex for the Country.”