Firefighters rest at their camp. The coronavirus outbreak is making the U.S. Forest Service change strategies for fighting wildfires. (AP)

Firefighters rest at their camp. The coronavirus outbreak is making the U.S. Forest Service change strategies for fighting wildfires. (AP)

The firefighters slept out in the open because they had to move to a different camp in a few days. (AP)

The firefighters slept out in the open because they had to move to a different camp in a few days. (AP)

Fire crews often work in close groups to fight these large wildfires. (AP)

Fire crews often work in close groups to fight these large wildfires. (AP)

Firefighters battle the Marsh Fire in Contra Costa County, California.  (AP)

Firefighters battle the Marsh Fire in Contra Costa County, California. (AP)

The U.S. Forest Service’s new regulations are meant to protect firefighters from the virus as well as their usual job risks. (AP)

The U.S. Forest Service’s new regulations are meant to protect firefighters from the virus as well as their usual job risks. (AP)

New Ways To Fight Wildfires

Posted: July 1, 2020

Strong and healthy young men and women fight wildfires. Thousands of firefighters must work together for weeks at a time. They don’t mind crowding onto fire trucks and touching the same things. COVID-19 has changed all that. It’s hard to fight wildfires and stay six feet apart.

Fire agencies made new plans. Some will hold training classes online. Each fire engine might carry only a driver and one passenger. Other crew members will follow in more vehicles. Campsite chow tents could be a thing of the past. Firefighters will receive “Meals, Ready-to-Eat” (MREs). All workers will avoid touching the same serving utensils.

Illness, nicknamed “camp crud,” often spreads because wildland fire camps are a tough place for tough people. Firefighters are under stress. They breathe in smoke and dust. They don’t sleep well. They can’t take regular showers. They might not share that they don’t feel well. But now, “It’s not okay to just tough it out if something’s wrong,” says one fire agency official.

An influenza pandemic killed millions of people all over the world back in 1918. That year, sparks from a passing train near Cloquet, Minnesota, set fields on fire. Many people were killed or hurt. About 52,000 others lost their homes. They were crowded together in evacuee housing. Disease spread easily from person to person. Many more people died from flu.

The U.S. Forest Service has worked hard to follow orders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fire crews may have to wear masks as they travel from one place to another. Larger campsites near wildfires could help. Wildland firefighters are first responders, like hospital workers and police, says a community health expert. They should be protected.