'A very challenging situation': Prepping for wildfire amid COVID-19

Posted at 5:06 PM, Apr 24, 2020

What if California faces a disaster during the coronavirus pandemic?

Local fire officials are hopeful that the spread of COVID-19 will taper off soon but the outbreak has already forced CAL FIRE SLO to make some changes.

"It's caused a whole new wave of thinking of how we're going to react to that," said Josh Taylor, CAL FIRE SLO Assistant Chief.

Aircraft is back at the Paso Air Base after going through Winter maintenance in Sacramento.

"We are getting prepared for any fires that may start this week," Taylor said.

And, nearly two dozen seasonal firefighters have returned, ready to go.

"We were taking temperatures asking questions to see if they had symptoms of COVID-19 and we had to practice social distancing at our training center in Los Osos," Taylor explained.

The disease has delayed inspections of fire-prone properties in San Luis Obispo County but fire officials say people should be clearing that defensible space now.

Over the past few years, the state has experienced some of its deadliest and most destructive wildfires ever and it's required big numbers of firefighters to travel throughout California or come from other states to help.

"We don't want to have a COVID-19 outbreak in our fire camps," Taylor said.

Another concern is preventing the spread of COVID-19 at evacuation centers that house families and others uprooted from their homes.

"We'll open more shelters if that's the direction we have to go so that we can have less people inside each shelter," said Scott O'Connell, Central California Red Cross Regional Disaster Officer.

The Red Cross will check temperatures at the door with volunteers wearing personal protective equipment.

"As soon as COVID-19 really hit this area, we were already pivoting to how are we going to do this," O'Connell explained.

The San Luis Obispo County Office of Emergency Services is also nailing down a plan.

"Obviously, if we have two different incidents going on at one time that's going to make for a very challenging situation," said Joe Guzzardi, San Luis Obispo County Office of Emergency Services Manager.

With the recent history of wildfires in the state, CAL FIRE no longer refers to a specific period as fire season but instead, transitional and peak staffing.