Fighting wildfires and the virus

Fighting wildfires and the virus

Battling record-breaking wildfires during a pandemic was always going to be a challenge, and now some of the worst fears may be coming true: Six members of a fire incident management team in Washington State had to go into temporary isolation this week after a member of a resupply crew tested positive for the coronavirus.


To prevent the spread of the virus among firefighters, who often travel in groups or stay in close quarters at command posts, the chief of the U.S. Forest Service in April ordered a new strategy that would rely more on local crews and focus on rapid containment to prevent the need for larger teams.
But this year’s historic wildfire season proved too challenging for the revised approach. Thousands of firefighters are now clustered in camps, with many arriving from other regions. Teams have taken their own precautions, increasing sanitation and limiting interactions among firefighters, who return to camp in shifts. There are also temperature checks, additional hand-washing stations and individually packaged meals.


Firefighters may be particularly vulnerable to the virus. They often face respiratory issues caused by smoke, and many find wearing masks to be too restrictive in the line of duty.
This is just the latest virus-related challenge for wildfire crews. The economic downturn has shrunk firefighting budgets, and manpower has been limited by less access to prison inmates and others who were stuck in quarantine.



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