Pandemic could result in longer burning wildfires


Wildfires could take longer to extinguish this summer due to the pandemic, Gov. Jay Inslee announced during his June 4th press conference. According to Inslee, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources cautioned that it could “take 25% longer to suppress these fires because of the necessary limitations we have dealing with COVID-19.”

Writing about Inslee’s announcement, the Chinook Observer reports that “routine tasks, such as serving meals or briefing crews, will take longer because of physical distancing, possibly reducing the time firefighters spend battling blazes.” The article went on to quote DNR wildfire division manager Chuck Turley, who noted that wildfire response commanders should “expect an overall increase (in the) amount of time and resources necessary to meet expectations – potentially up to 25%.”

“A little bit here and a little bit there and it adds up over the course of an incident,” said Turley, who also serves as chairman of the Pacific Northwest Wildfire Coordinating Group.

Working with state, federal and local organizations, the Coordinating Group has created a set of safety measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus among wildland firefighters. While the infection control precautions won’t impact work on the fire lines, it will change operations in other ways. For example, wildland firefighters may require more vehicles to adhere to physical distancing requirements and the camps will have to be modified to limit the spread of coronavirus.

In the meantime, Inslee urged residents to do what they can help prevent man-made wildfires and protect their homes from blazes like being mindful of burn restrictions, making certain that campfires are out and keeping brush away from homes. He also recommended residents visit the DNR website to learn more about wildfire prevention.

“In a sense, it’s kind of like COVID-19,” Inslee said. “There are things we can do to protect ourselves. So, if we’re ever going to be careful, this is going to be a great year to be careful and try to reduce fires.”