Preventing wildfires in the era of COVID-19
LOS ANGELES - We don't have to tell you how deadly and damaging wildfires are here in California. Now, throw COVID-19 into the mix.
Of the coronavirus, Los Angeles County Fire Captain Ronald Haralson says "...well that's complicated life in general on the way we do business day-to-day."
Haralson says the virus has already changed how things are done at local fire stations with briefings, day-to-day work, redesigning sleeping quarters and eating accommodations.
Haralson says, "so you add that to a wildfire situation or a situation where you have strike teams and resources all over the state and you're talking about a lot of men and women in proximity and in close quarters."
As an example, let's talk about large base camps where firefighters eat and sleep when they're not on the fire lines.
Haralson says they will definitely want to spread out the personnel as best they can. Maybe base camp will spread over several parks instead of concentrated in one area of a park.
Mohler says it's the same for the states adding, "We used to use, say, a fairgrounds. We may use two fairgrounds and a park."
He's also worried that people may have what he calls 'crisis fatigue' from the quarantine. He says that's not good because firefighters need our help during these fire emergencies.
He says, "People are tired... now you add a wildfire on top of that or another large incident?"
He says a major wildfire could have as many as 6,000 personnel on the scene. Social distancing with that many people?
Says Mohler, "This adds a whole different dynamic that we've never dealt in the fire service."
CAL FIRE gets over 5,000 calls a day largely for emergency services so, they're already using special protective gear and social distancing measures when possible. He says they are spending time day after day trying to plan for a wildfire in the era of COVID-19.
Mohler says, "What it exactly looks like we don't know yet. We haven't seen it, but it's going to be a different ballgame." Another different ballgame... evacuation centers!
Mohler says it might have to be that "one evacuation center now may be three evacuation centers now." And, Haralson says, instead of just using a big gym in a high school, it may be necessary to spread out more using different rooms, multiple high schools... multiple locations."
COVID-19 aside this is wildfire preparedness week -- a time to have plans in place in case you're suddenly caught up in a fire.
Check for flammable materials around the home. Move or get rid of them and always have what you need like important papers and medications in case firefighters tell you it's time to evacuate the area.
For more information on being prepared, visit https://www.fire.lacounty.gov and https://www.readyforwildfire.org.