Wildland firefighters adjust to COVID threats amid record-breaking season

Bighorn Fire had zero cases of COVID-19

Wildland firefighters adjust to COVID threats

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The West Coast has experienced a record-breaking wildfire season amid the pandemic. Firefighters have adjusted to minimize the threat of COVID-19.

Southern Arizona watched as more than 1,000 firefighters battled the Bighorn Fire this summer. However, not even one tested positive for virus while fighting it, according to Steven Miranda, the fire management officer for the Coronado National Forest.

“Firefighters, we train them to be adaptive and they did adapt," Miranda said. "In the end, I feel like we’ve been pretty successful.”

The Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management said only one firefighter has tested positive while fighting a wildfire in Arizona.

“Fortunately we have been lucky so far this year, even with everybody traveling in and out of California, Oregon and Colorado, we’ve only had that one case," said Tiffany Davila, a Public Information Officer with the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

Firefighters undergo health checks and have their temperatures checked daily. If they show signs or symptoms of COVID-19, then they’ll start the process of testing and self-isolation. Base camps have looked much different this year with crews split into smaller groups.

“If we had one module go down, it wouldn’t take down another engine or another helicopter," Miranda said. "We worked using that. That was very effective for us and it still remains very effective nationally as we fight fires across the west right now.”

Firefighters watched and listened to their morning briefings virtually. For the first time, crews will use online platforms for their trainings this fall and winter.

“This tool can be pretty effective, and we can be pretty efficient in deliver of briefings or trainings," he said. "I think using the web-based training is going to help us be successful.”

The firefighters are trying to stay as safe as possible, not only for themselves but also for the communities they work in.

“When we do bring lots of folks into town, like Tucson, we don’t want to create a super spreader event," Miranda said. "It’s not just about protecting the firefighters but keeping the public safe as well.”

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