Mt. GRAHAM, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A bacterial infection has spread in the Frye Fire firefighter camp, forcing personnel to be quarantined.
As of Sunday morning, June 18, there were 45 confirmed cases of strep throat, or streptococcal pharyngitis, among firefighters on the Frye Fire incident, according to public information officer Evan Burks. The initial cases were first reported Saturday afternoon on the Inciweb page.
The Frye Fire is burning near Safford in Graham County, and was started by lightning on June 7.
Burks said when mass illness strikes, like strep throat, protocol is to assign an incident commander for "the incident within the incident."
"We assign somebody to be the incident commander of that incident so that normal fire operations can continue while the issue is dealt with by a separate group of people," Burks said.
A medical group was created with doctors and nurses being brought to the Safford area to help with the strep throat outbreak.
Burks said antibiotics were administered and the affected fire personnel were quarantined, but will not be sent home.
"We have not released those resources. They're still here. But we have separated them from the healthy firefighters," Burks said. "The antibiotics start working within 24 hours, and it looks like the firefighters are getting healthy pretty quickly here. Once they're healthy, and good to go, they'll be back to work [on the Frye Fire]."
Medical personnel have identified those with strep throat and they are taking "extra precautions to wash hands, and stay healthy," Burks said. "That's always the number one priority, to keep our firefighters healthy. But there is always that risk out there."
Burks would not say that it is "common" for illness outbreaks like strep throat to occur in large firefighting camps, where personnel live in close quarters.
The latest news release, sent out Sunday morning, showed the Frye Fire had grown to 6,305 acres since it started nearly two weeks ago. Burks said the fire is 16 percent contained, and they have no reports of homes being threatened by flames.
The news release said the Frye Fire is burning among timber, brush, and heavy, downed timber from the 2004 Nuttall Complex. It is located in the Safford Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest, about 7 miles southwest of Safford.
There are closures in effect for "all campgrounds, roadways and trail systems north of Shannon Campground at the junction of Highway 366 and Forest Road 507 where the pavement ends," the news release said. "Graham County Sheriff's Office will stop any non-fire traffic at this point to maintain safety. State trust lands are not public lands and therefore access will be restricted to lease holders only."
The closure order affects Treasure Park, Hospital Flat, Upper Hospital Flat, Cunningham, Soldier Creek, Columbine Corrals, Riggs Flat, and Clark Peak Corrals.
Temporary flight restrictions remain in effect until further notice, the news release explained. "This restriction includes "drones" or any unmanned aerial vehicles. The public is reminded that "If you fly, we can't!"
They have 306 personnel assigned to the Frye Fire, and Burks said he has know expectation of the number of infected patients growing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, strep throat is an infection in the throat and tonsils "caused by group A Streptococcusbacteria (called "group A strep"). The bacteria are spread through contact with d roplets after an infected person coughs or sneezes."
The CDC.gov website said that, "if you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes after touching something that has these d roplets on it, you may become ill. If you drink from the same glass or eat from the same plate as a sick person, you could also become ill."