One more COVID-19 impact: preparations for the wildfire season

Published: May. 28, 2020 at 5:21 PM PDT
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As the rest of us adjusted our professional and personal lives to the “new normal,” those who fight our wildfires made adjustments of their own.

"We've done a lot of planning to address coronavirus,” says Paul Petersen, the Bureau of Land Management's state fire management officer. "And if we can still maintain according to our plan social distancing and minimizing outside contact, we can still be successful."

The immediate problem was recruiting and training crews for the season ahead.

"We had to cancel some or our training classes in the very beginning, but we were able to modify some of our classes through distance learning and smaller groups."

And so, new hires and veterans went online. And, like many of us, they turned to applications like Zoom. But, Petersen says, that wasn't the only change.

"We have hired some additional firefighters in case some do get sick, so we can still maintain our capacity to fight wildland fires in Nevada."

So, Petersen says BLM fire crews will be ready. That's good news because out in the hills, our main flash fuel, cheat grass, is already curing and turning purple. It will soon be at its driest and most combustible. And, though a relatively dry winter didn't leave us with a heavy load of fuel, there will be more than enough to feed some big fires.

In fact, it's already started. Most of the early fires are still under investigation and the quick curing of the fuels is certainly playing a role, but it's also evident most are being caused by people.

It may be that more of us are fleeing the restrictions of sheltering at home, heading for the hills and failing to take proper care.

"The last couple of weeks we're averaging 20 fires per week which is an increase, especially for this time of year,” Petersen said.

“Anytime people are out there we encourage them to recreate responsibly, shoot responsibly, make sure you have adequate backstops, not shooting into dry grass,” Petersen added. “Don't park on dry grass. Don't leave campfires unattended and just be especially careful on high wind days."

Copyright KOLO-TV 2020

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