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Washington DNR asks public to practice fire safety amid coronavirus pandemic

A wildfire near Tonasket now has several firefighters quarantining after one of them tested positive for COVID-19.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Battling fires is already a situation that can put someone’s life at risk.

Now, along with those dangers is something that you can’t see but is just as serious.

“We’ve never, ever had to think about how we fight fires in the midst of a global deadly pandemic and our firefighters are at huge risks,” said Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

August and September are peak fire season and because of that, there’s bound to be natural fires that have to be contained. There’s also the man-made ones that could’ve been prevented.

A recent call onto the public was sent out by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources asking people to strictly follow burn bans during this year's crisis. The hope is that fewer wildfires would keep more firefighters healthy.

“The fact is that when we have a firefighter that test positive for COVID, anyone that has been within his close circle now also has to be quarantined,” Franz explained.

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They’ve already seen an example of this, with 14 firefighters now quarantining for two weeks after battling a fire this past weekend.

One of them tested positive for COVID-19 and that impacts the entire camp he was working with.

He’s recovering well, but more outbreaks could spell trouble and create a shortage.

“You can imagine that if we begin to have a spread within a camp, we could easily lose significant amount of our firefighting resources which are absolutely essential in these significant catastrophic fires," Franz said. 

New protocols and PPE are in place for first responders, but wearing a flammable mask isn’t safe when out on the front lines.

That’s why if there’s any way to prevent an unnecessary fire this season, the DNR is asking that people do so.

“We are urging people to do everything that they can to reduce fires but also reduce the spread of COVID so that we can keep our firefighters safe this year,” Franz said. “In doing so, we will keep our community safe.”