Logistics of wildfire management amidst COVID-19
NPR recently released an article entitled “Wildland Fire Camps Need Dramatic Change Amid COVID-19 Pandemic.” In the article, the author discusses possible scenarios where some safety protocols can still be upheld, though admittedly, firefighting will be front and center when it comes to massive and deadly wildfires.
In this article, the author likens a fire camp to a small make-shift city. Firefighters are in tight quarters when it comes to lodging and working. There are many moving parts and many people involved, not just the firefighters. These fire camps are also equipped with caterers, contractors, and crew bosses. The challenge to social distancing is then obvious. How can we protect firefighters and those working in these temporary fire camps?
One idea is to avoid allowing crews to leave their regions to help out in other areas of the country, something that’s always been done as wildfire seasons peaks at various times throughout the country. These restrictions would help to prevent the spread of the virus, but it also puts crews under added strain of availability of resources. There would need to be additional hiring of firefighters to offset this strain.
Another idea that was mentioned in the NPR article, which has been brought up by several other experts, is to treat firefighting crews as a family unit. This may mean restricting travel, requiring temperature checks and testing, and keeping the members of the crew together at all times.
In short, while priority will have to go to wildfire management, precautions can be taken in some degree. Thankfully, organizations like the Wildfire Fire Medical and Public Health Advisory Team (MPHAT) are working to address the medical and health related issues of COVID-19 as it relates to wildland fire management. Other organizations like the Department of the Interior and the CDC are also working on the release of helpful protocols and information that may be of assistance to those on the frontlines of wildfire management.