SPOKANE, Wash. — The Inland Northwest is gearing up for what could be an intense wildfire season and coronavirus is only complicating efforts at the state level to be ready.
The Washington Department of Natural Resources had to cancel its three firefighter training academies this year, so a lot of the training is being done virtually.
But once the fires start, crews know there's only so much social distancing that can be done in a fire camp.
Here's what's going to be different this year in both Idaho and Washington:
- Masks: In camp, firefighters will be asked to wear a mask anytime they are going to be closer than six feet to someone else.
- Spread Out: Tents and camp facilities will be spread out to accommodate social distancing
- Eating Alone: Instead of having dining areas right there near the mobile kitchen, firefighters will be asked to get their food and go back to their tent to eat.
- More Hotels/Motels: When possible, instead of being in a camp, firefighters may be put up in a nearby motel.
- Remote Operations: Some camp operations may be done remotely, to limit the number of key personnel who may be exposed to the virus
Out on the fire lines, firefighters will not be asked to wear a mask, but they will still have to wear them inside of the vehicles or the aircraft. On the ground, they'll still be asked to space out and maintain six feet of social distances.
Idaho is also going to sometimes send out more vehicles so people aren't crammed so close together. In Washington, there will be more air support this year, including at least two more helicopters for water drops.
Before firefighters ever even get to the front lines, they'll be going through routine health screenings, and temperature checks.
But officials in both states have made it clear, one thing will not change:
they will be aggressively fighting fires, getting to the initial attack early, with the goal of never having to fight those big fires or the added risk of coronavirus exposure.