COVID-19 changing 2020 wildfire tactics

Coronavirus Updates

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Wildfire season is around the corner and firefighters are changing tactics to battle the wildfires because of COVID-19.

“Yeah well, it’s going to be a lot different,” said Unified Fire Authority Captian Dominic Burchett.

Wildland firefighters are going to see smaller teams in 2020. Typically in April and May, 60 firefighters would get critical hands-on training.

Weber Basin Hand Crew searching for hotspots on Alaska Fire Aug. 1, 2019 (via Twitter @UtahWildfire))

The new teams will take some of that training online.

“This year with the restrictions, we are going to do everything we can to keep our groups into 10 people or less,” said Capt. Burchett.

The in-person training will be held at three different locations for the hand crews, engines, and in-county response teams.

“There is still information coming out on how the fire camps are going to be managed and how they are actually going to be fighting the fires,” he said.

Fire camps are places the wildland firefighters get their supplies, food, water, daily briefing, and sleep at night.

“So those fire camps can run, you know, anywhere from 50 people on a small scale fire to 2,000 people on a large scale fire. So that is going to be really challenging this summer if we are still going to have the issue of the coronavirus,” he said. “I think that they are going to have to look at ways to isolate crews individually. Potentially have them camp and sleep out closer to the fire edge.”

A move like that means the wildland firefighter may need to carry their food.

“Really for the foodbservice, we may have to go back to eating more MREs,” Capt. Burchett added. “So, I don’t know that yet but we are basically preparing in the best way possible by keeping our guys healthy, and hopefully start the season healthy so that they can get out there and suppress the fires.”

Capt. Burchett believes crews may get their briefings over the radio because of the new measures.

“I think it will be a little different, a little slower but the information we will still be able to get out to the crews that need it,” he said.

As firefighters prepare for this summers fires, you can too by creating a 30-foot defensible space around your home.

“The best thing you can do is get up on your roof and clean out the leaf litter that gathered over the winter, clean out your gutters, clean out any dead tree material that came down over the winter,” he said.

Other home safety and preparedness you can do include:

  • Don’t give the embers an entrance, repair/replace shingles or tiles on the roof. Also, caulk any gaps or openings on roof edges. If replacing the roof, DO NOT use wood shingles.
  • Cover exterior attic vents and under-eave and soffits with metal wire mesh no larger than 1/8” to prevent embers entering.
  • Clear debris, equipment, storage from under decks.
  • Instead of mulch, use noncombustible items like stone or gravel or wood chips (although combustible, it will not sustain a high-risk fire.)

Capt. Burchett added, “That would help us out a lot as firefighters.”

For more information on how to prepare for a fire visit the following websites:

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