Fighting fire in the midst of a pandemic creates some challenges

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MANTI, Utah (ABC4 News) – Dry, hot conditions paired with a spark of fire can lead to a wildfire, requiring multiple fire crews to stop the blaze. And fighting fire in the midst of a pandemic creates some of its own challenges.  

“We knew fires were not going to back off and give us a break because of COVID-19,” said Fred Johnson, a Central Utah fire management official with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

More than 1,000 wildfires have burned in Utah this fire season, with hundreds of them impacting central Utah.

Utahfireinfo.gov maps the number of fires throughout the state this year.

“Our human-caused fires are significantly higher than our natural-caused fires,” Johnson said, who oversees fires in Millard, Wayne, Piute, Sevier, Juab and Sanpete counties.

Johnson said fighting fire requires a plan – and this year – that plan also includes protocols on how to stay safe from COVID-19. 

“And once they’re here, we require them to self-asses at least twice a day, taking their temperature and considering if they are exhibiting any of the symptoms with that,” Johnson said.

When on the front line, Johnson said firefighters are not required to wear a mask.

“These firefighters [are] out here in 100-degree weather working hard. And to have to wear a mask would not be conducive to their welfare,” Johnson said.

But when they come into the command post, Johnson said they are required to wear a mask and practice social distancing as best they can.

While these protocols are meant to keep firefighter’s safe and able to fight fires, Johnson said it impacts the way they have their meals, meetings, and general interactions.

“It used to be that we sat at the fire camp, we all worked together and we work in close proximity to each other — this year, we’re not able to do that,” Johnson said.

Now, firefighters are assigned to work with a small group of people who are considered their family.

“If they are working together every day, we treat them as a family and they work together, but they do not intermix with other crews,” Johnson said.

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