Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

Baker County commissioners approved an eclipse related declaration of disaster at their Wednesday meeting.

County Emergency Services Manager Jason Yencopal said the declaration will allow the county to better respond to issues related to the Aug. 21 solar eclipse (before and after the event) that is estimated to bring as many as 50,000 visitors to the area.

“We can declare a state of emergency for the county if we consider there’s an imminent threat ...We know that there’s a lot of people coming,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot more lives out there.”

Most of Baker County is in the 70-mile-wide path of totality in which the sun will be totally obscured by the moon for up to 2 minutes depending on one’s location within the corridor.

Yencopal said emergency responders in the county will be stretched thin with the influx of people. The declaration states that the event could produce four times the emergency medical calls for service that just the Baker City Fire Department’s three ambulances normally respond to. That’s not including the rural departments from Richland and Halfway/Oxbow where there are one and two ambulances respectively. Additionally Unity and Huntington — both near the center of the path of totality of the eclipse — rely on emergency response from neighboring counties (Grant and Malheur) where they will also be dealing with a large influx of eclipse viewers.

“We barely have enough resources just for our 16,000 (permanent residents),” Yencopal said.

Because first responders will be stretched so thin, the disaster declaration states loss of life could be an outcome. With the declaration, the County Commission is asking Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to recognize a local disaster.

It also requests that the state provide funding to prepare for the event to prevent the loss of life and property damage.

In addition, the Oregon National Guard would be allowed to provide air and ground medical services as well as make mobile fuel tanks available to be placed in strategic areas for use by first responders.

A disaster declaration also allows rural emergency medical responders to transport patients at a higher level of care.

“Right now our rural fire departments cannot transport,” Yencopal said. “It has to be a transporting ambulance.”

Yencopal said that the declaration will open the door for funding for emergency response. That is important because the county and other agencies have depleted budgets due to the severe weather last winter. They were denied funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to offset those expenses.

See more in the July 7, 2017 issue of the Baker City Herald.