California officials concerned over virus risks, health of firefighters as wildfire season approaches

California
A Cal Fire firefighter is seen outside a burning home as the Camp Fire moves through the area on Nov. 9, 2018, in Magalia, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A Cal Fire firefighter is seen outside a burning home as the Camp Fire moves through the area on Nov. 9, 2018, in Magalia, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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As forecasters predict higher-than-normal chances of large fires in Northern California this year — as well as the usual risk of “large significant” burning in Southern California — fire authorities are growing increasingly concerned over their ability to muster a large, healthy force of firefighters in the face of COVID-19.

Realizing that wildfire smoke will steadily impair a firefighter’s immune system, and that traditional base camps can magnify the risk of infection, federal, state and county officials are urging a blitzkrieg approach to wildfires that will rely heavily on the use of aircraft.

With the coronavirus still circulating, they say they cannot allow even the smallest secluded fire to smolder for the sake of forest ecology. All fires, they say, must be extinguished as quickly as possible.

“Unfortunately, this is not a year in which we can afford to assign firefighters to monitor and manage such wildland fires,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) wrote to the departments of Interior and Agriculture recently as she urged aggressive firefighting in Northern California and other parts of the West. “Given the unprecedented conditions in this fire season, it is essential to utilize federal resources for immediate wildfire suppression to the greatest extent practicable.”

Read the full story at LATimes.com.

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