OLYMPIA – Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, leader of Washington state’s wildfire fighting force, today is reiterating her message to residents: Please take seriously efforts to reduce COVID-19 spread and prevent human-caused wildfires.
The reminder is due to an incident over the weekend where an asymptomatic DNR firefighter who had been serving at a fire camp tested positive for COVID-19. The firefighter was part of the interagency team responding to the Anglin Fire near Tonasket. All protocols were adhered to after the test, including contact tracing, quarantining, and outreach to firefighting partners. The 14 other firefighters who the DNR firefighter came into contact have been quarantined – they are also asymptomatic at this time.
The positive test does not pose a danger to immediate wildfire response capability. The Anglin Fire is contained and the fire camp has been demobilized.
Although it is only the third case of a DNR wildland firefighter testing positive, the threat of the virus quickly spreading through a fire camp is extremely concerning.
“Our wildland firefighters are our first line of defense when communities are facing a wildfire,” said Commissioner Franz. “Unfortunately, despite all possible precautions, firefighters do congregate and work in close quarters when responding to wildfires. That means the stakes are high: a widespread outbreak among our firefighters would impede our ability to keep Washingtonians safe.
“I urge each of us to recommit to doing all we can to protect our firefighters. That means practicing social distancing and wearing a mask so that our firefighters do not catch the virus when they are not on the fire lines. And that also means abiding by burn bans and taking precautions not to start fires. Each time our firefighters respond to a fire, they are at risk of COVID-19 spreading amongst them. While the exposure to others was limited in the cases so far, it could be far worse next time.”
Commissioner Franz added that precautions to reduce human-caused fires include heeding burn bans, not leaving flammable material like trash or derelict vehicles on the landscape, and not using incendiary devices of any kind while recreating on forestlands.
Commissioner Franz signed an order July 27 creating a statewide burn ban on all forestland under the Washington State Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) fire protection. This covers 12 million acres of public and private land. The order is valid through Sept. 30, unless fire conditions improve.
The burn ban was prompted by prolonged hot, dry weather conditions across the state along with gusty winds that can spread a wildfire quickly through the now-dry grasses and forests.
Wildfire statistics can be found on DNR’s wildfire portal at http://fireinfo.dnr.wa.gov/ (use Chrome browser).