Many parts of the Mountain West are predicted to have above normal wildfire potential this summer. The coronavirus promises to make fire season abnormal in other ways, too.
Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser says some impacts are already being felt.
"We've drastically changed our training regime for the spring," he said. "A lot of the larger fire schools have been canceled just because you can't get that many people together."
He says many classes have moved online. But not all firefighting can be taught virtually, so some classes have been reduced in size to allow social distancing.
The big concern, though, is large fires and the large fire camps that accompany them, which Crapser describes as a "breeding ground for any type of colds or viruses."
"[We're] trying to take some precautions to avoid as many large camps as possible," he said.
That could mean aggressive early suppression in some cases, or reducing the size of camps by moving technical support staff, for example, to remote locations, Crapser said. Agencies may also pivot to more aviation resources, limit the number of people on a fire engine, and use more spike camps, which have fewer people, and are closer to the fire line.
And he stresses the added onus on the public, too: "The fewer human-caused fires we have, the less potential we have for large fires, and the need to have that many people in one spot."
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This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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