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How Twin Falls County Emergency Management handled wildfire evacuations alongside COVID-19

Posted at 7:26 PM, Sep 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-22 11:10:39-04

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — As of Monday, fire crews have managed to get more of a handle on the Badger Fire. The fire started on Saturday, September 12, 20 miles southwest of Oakley, and has burned more than 89,000 acres with 286 emergency personnel battling the blaze.

Evacuations for Rock Creek residents were ordered Friday morning but lifted Sunday. However, the evacuation was very different this time around compared to other wildfire evacuations because emergency personnel had to take COVID into account.

Seventy-five to 100 homes were being threatened, and some residents of those homes took advantage of the shelters provided. The Eastside Southern Baptist Church acted as a staging area for evacuees who were later moved to the Garden Hotel Inn.

Upon arrival, there were numerous safety measures, including social distancing and temperature checks.

"Our shelter and the hotel require face masks. We work very closely with the agencies in our county, health department, those people that are very critical in COVID right now, we're working with them right now to give us guidance," said Jackie Frey, Twin Falls County Management Services Director.

Around 20 people took advantage of the shelter while some took to the Twin Falls County Fairgrounds, which was offered for extra social distancing. The fairgrounds primarily housed RVs and livestock.

Rock Creek evacuees weren't the only people taking advantage of the fairgrounds; other evacuees from Washington, Oregon, and California are also staying in the area to escape wildfires in their home states.

"They heard what we were doing on the radio stations and actually went into the fairgrounds and talked to the fair manager, and had said, "Could you possibly allow us to house here" and [fairground manager] John Pitz had said absolutely, there would be no turning anyone away," said Frey.

Frey also commended the fire crews, Sheriff's Department, and the Emergency Management Service efforts to allow for the evacuation to run so efficiently amid the added list of safety protocols.

"We all work very closely as a team. It's very important that we, out of respect and out of professional courtesy, we are working as a team, but we also recognize what each person does," said Frey.

While there is no immediate threat to the other neighboring communities, the Emergency Management offices are ready for another evacuation if needed.