Wildfire crews change safety protocols due to COVID-19

Posted at 4:36 PM, Jul 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-07 19:53:02-04

IDAHO — Wildfire season is still full force ahead despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) predicts a high volume of fires throughout the West over the next couple of months.

With COVID-19 present, fire crews have to change some of their protocols to keep everyone safe and healthy.

"We're going to try to use the social distancing and keep people spread out and not have them interact nearly as much as they would in the past," acting Assistant Fire Management Officer for BLM, Andy Delmas says.

Fire crews are used to working side by side, but that isn't the safest option during the pandemic. They will have to social distance as much as possible to reduce the risk of infection but still contain a fire.

"What they're doing is ensuring safe and effective fire suppression during the pandemic," spokesperson for NIFC, Jessica Gardetto says.

In an average year, about 500 to 1,000 people stay together on a campground during a big wildfire, but with concerns of COVID-19 spreading through-out the crews, camps are reduced in size and spread out.

They are also using a 'module as one' concept, which keeps units of about 5-7 people together as if they were a family.

"They are limiting their contact with outside individuals and really trying to prevent their exposure to the virus by operating as family units," Gardetto says.

Fire crews would typically be served food cafeteria-style, but this year all food will be pre-packaged and sent with teams.

Also, all action plans will be given electronically to reduce the number of people at a morning briefing.

"We're going to really limit who comes to those morning briefings and even do remote briefings through teleconference or radio briefings," Delmas says.

According to NIFC, about 87% of fires are started by people, so they ask everyone to be extra cautious when doing anything that could spark a wildfire.