Federal Firefighter Units Juggle COVID-19 Infection on Fire Lines

“The reality is you're going to see positives in camp, that's just the era we are in globally," Oregon’s chief deputy fire marshal said

Kings County firefighter Edgar Morales watches as as a backfire burns off Chemise Road in Healdsburg, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.
Jane Tyska/Getty Images

Federal firefighter units tasked with putting out some of the nation’s biggest wildfires are grappling with the reality of a fire season coinciding with a pandemic, NBC News reports.

As historic wildfires have spread through much of the West this summer, firefighters organized within the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service are testing positive for COVID-19 — having to, at times, learn on the fly how to mitigate the spread as virus spikes hit various fire camps assigned to active blazes.

Wildland firefighters are sometimes considered the last defense, called in after local resources are stretched thin. Federal crews spend the fire season crisscrossing state borders as they are sent to fight the latest burning blaze. And that constant traveling, as well as the close working proximity, have offered a challenge to COVID-19 mitigation, especially as firefighting methods like holding the line can require elbow-to-elbow teamwork.

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