FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: July 1, 2020
LOCAL OFFICIALS VOICE CONCERN AS COVID-19 BRINGS EXTRA HAZARDS TO FIRE SEASON
Routt County’s Emergency Operations Director, David ‘Mo’ DeMorat has been fully immersed in the area’s response to COVID-19 for four months, but recent warm, dry and windy days also have caught his attention.
“We’re entering a hazardous time of the year with wildfires, he said. “We have to be prepared for that as well.”
“The last thing we need right now, with COVID-19, is a wildfire,” DeMorat said, noting that crews have to congregate to effectively fight fires. If even one firefighter has the coronavirus, the disease could spread rapidly. “Our bench is not that deep; we cannot afford to have that happen,” he said.
Wildland firefighting uses a national system that dispatches and moves resources – including firefighters and the specialized equipment they use – across the country to respond to the most dangerous and pressing fires. That presents an additional risk of potential exposure to COVID-19 as fire crews travel across the country and set up camps in new communities. Additionally, these firefighters usually establish a camp in the vicinity of the fire, which includes tents, hygiene stations, and meal service, all of which can contribute to virus spread.
“We’re taking precautions to be sure everyone’s aware and taking this seriously so we’re not compounding any COVID issues out there,” DeMorat said.
Evacuation Centers Look Different in COVID-19 Era
According to Cheryl Dalton, Routt County Office of Emergency Management’s Public Information Officer, if a large wildfire caused evacuations in Routt County, the county would typically work with the American Red Cross to set up evacuation centers for affected residents. Typically, the Red Cross would set up a shelter.
But this year, “we wouldn’t do that,” said Courtney Strother, a disaster program manager for the Red Cross in western Colorado. Traditional evacuation shelters in gyms make social distancing – and limiting the spread of disease – challenging.
In light of COVID-19, Strother said the best option is to evacuate residents to hotels. Red Cross volunteers across the region are reaching out to hotels to inquire about availability through the fire season. The main focus is on non-congregate sheltering. Strother said the Red Cross also is developing plans in case a congregate shelter such as a gym is the only option.
Dalton said citizens need to do their own planning ahead of fire season, too. First and foremost, register for emergency alerts through RouttCountyAlerts.com. Once registered, develop or review your family emergency plan, to include identifying valuables to grab on a moment’s notice should you have to evacuate, know your primary and secondary evacuation routes, and review the communication plan with all family members.
People also can work on wildfire mitigation near their homes by clearing brush and other flammable materials.
“Everybody’s worried about fire when there’s smoke in the air, but a little planning and mitigation on the front end goes a long way,” Dalton said.