Wildfire Season, COVID-19 Pose Dual Threat to Cal Fire

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Firefighters aren't only facing the increasing threat of wildfires, they're also trying to extinguish the coronavirus.

The pandemic has Cal Fire and the local Red Cross changing some of their regular procedures, and the new protocols could affect the public during an emergency.  

"This is a down and dirty business. We have to be close to one another. We have to work in tight confines sometimes," Cal Fire Captain Issac Sanchez said.

Cal Fire's goal to contain 90% of wildfires to 10 acres still stands and resources will not be spared.

"If a fire needs 3,000 firefighters or it needs 300 firefighters, we are going to order those resources,” Captain Sanchez said.

Wildfire season is approaching and although the coronavirus pandemic poses an obstacle, Cal Fire is preparing for the fires.

The agency is working on a plan to limit the number of firefighters at a single incident base. That's where they are fed, given supplies, fuel and a place to sleep during long term firefights.

The plan is to create multiple incident bases for different levels of service.  

"Whether COVID-19 shows up at one of our incident bases or not, we still want to address the possibility of that," Sanchez said.

The Red Cross food and shelter duties are changed. No more cafeteria style food service, individual meals only. Mental health and financial services are provided virtually to keep physical distance.

"What we've been focusing our efforts on are identifying these spaces, getting hotel partners then sharing our plan with our emergency partners," Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Bixi Lowe said.

During this pandemic wildfire response may be more challenging, but those on the front lines still consider the public's safety their first responsibility.

"We have an obligation to respond and alleviate human suffering, but at the same time we have an obligation to flatten that curve," Lowe said.

Cal Fire is also reminding residents that evacuation orders should be taken seriously. During a wildfire the immediate threat to life and property is likely greater than the risk of contracting coronavirus by leaving your home.

So far there are no reported cases of coronavirus among Cal Fire ranks in Southern California, according to Captain Sanchez.

Cal Fire has eliminated its public outreach and education programs for the time being.

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