How the Coronavirus Crisis May Hinder Efforts to Fight Wildfires

How the Coronavirus Crisis May Hinder Efforts to Fight Wildfires

March 20, 2020
The New York Times

In San Jose, Calif., just under 10 percent of the city’s firefighters, some of whom also help battle the state’s wildfires, this week found themselves either infected with the coronavirus or in quarantine.

And firefighters across the country, in states including Georgia, Indiana and Washington, are under quarantine amid the coronavirus crisis.

Much of the Western United States remains under drought conditions as fire season, which typically ramps up in mid-May and lasts through November, approaches. Arizona and New Mexico have had rain, but parts of California have already seen an increase in reported fires, according to The California Department of Fire. The state has received roughly half the amount of snow and rainfall that is normal for this time of year.

The coronavirus pandemic is already straining resources around the country, and the federal government has limited gatherings to fewer than 10 people to slow the spread of the virus. Firefighters are finding themselves squeezed from both sides: their close living and working conditions often allow for viruses to spread, but if they are subject to a quarantine, they are not available for emergency calls.

“There’s a risk of a reduction in force even as we go into fire season in the West right now,” said George Geissler, the state forester at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

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