How COVID-19 Will Impact the California Wildfire Season
Forecasters are already predicting a higher-than-normal wildfire season for Northern California this year. But with the coronavirus pandemic still underway, will there be enough firefighters to manage the threat?
Health concerns among firefighters – including wildfire smoke that can impair the immune systems and base camps that can magnify risk of infection – have led officials throughout California to urge a wildfire control approach that aggressively relies on waterdropping aircraft.
“Unfortunately, this is not a year in which we can afford to assign firefighters to monitor and manage such wildland fires,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a letter to the departments of Interior and Agriculture. “Given the unprecedented conditions in this fire season, it is essential to utilize federal resources for immediate wildfire suppression to the greatest extent practicable.”
But while planes and helicopters are effective in slowing fires and allowing ground crews to contain it, wind remains an uncontrollable factor. And concerns over spreading COVID-19 among firefighters, as well as use of inmate firefighters who make up 43% of the state firefighting force, has reduced the number of overall firefighters available in the state.
“It’s going to be really important for our citizens to do the proper brush clearance,” Fire Chief Daryl Osby told the Los Angeles Times, “because when we get toward the fall months and start having our wind-driven incidents, we cannot guarantee to place an engine at every home.”