Firefighting Efforts in the Time of COVID

Gov. Kate Brown spoke in The Dalles on Sunday, Aug. 17, about how the state is handling firefighting during some of the hottest and most dangerous days of fire season.  

Oregon has had 1,300 fires to date this year with around 2,300 acres burned. A normal year contains 2,100 fires, according to Doug Graf, chief of fire protection for the Oregon Department of Forestry.   

So, we’ve done well, but as the governor identified, this is really the peak of fire season,” Graf said. “We will continue to get tested throughout the fire season with the continuous dry fuels.”  

Thunderstorms have ignited well over 100 fires in the last few days, according to Graf, but the majority of fires this season have been human-caused, Gov. Brown said in her speech.  

“Each one of us can make a difference as we go out,” Brown said. “I know a lot of Oregonians, with the COVID-19 pandemic, are getting out into the outdoors. That’s a really good thing, but everybody has to be careful.”  

The governor urged people to know the campfire rules in their area and to use caution when operating machinery in the dry heat.   

An added difficulty in fighting fires this season is monitoring the spread of COVID-19 within fire camps.   

“We know that Covid-19 does spread quickly in congregant facilities, so under the direction of the state of Oregon, Oregon Department of Forestry and the office of state fire marshal, [we] really took a look at what we could do to mitigate that risk,” said Mariana Reese Temple of the state fire marshal’s office during the update in The Dalles.  

So-called “COVID modules” have been instituted on fire camps for incident management teams to conduct screenings, monitor and track the coronavirus, and deal with it the virus appears in a camp. Additionally, only personnel are permitted in the fire camps to lessen the spread of COVID-19 to the surrounding communities.  

“We’re really trying to make sure that we’re creating that physical distance that’s necessary to stop the spread,” Temple said.   

By Jessica Goddard