COVID-19 pandemic forcing firefighters to make changes heading into wildfire season

This year's fire season also comes with an additional challenge: the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- California has entered its peak wildfire season, and the number of brush fires firefighters have battled so far in 2020 has nearly doubled compared to this time last year.

This year also comes with an additional challenge: the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Fire crews' most significant challenges will be keeping social distancing while out in the field and safely evacuating people when wildfires threaten their homes.

CAL FIRE officials say crews will be put into "family units" or groups of firefighters who will respond to fires together and stay at camps as a group.

Firefighters will wear face coverings at base camps, and while on the fire line, with the only exception being while eating.

Over 850 additional firefighters have been hired to help relieve firefighters who may fall ill or need to quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19.

When it comes to safely evacuating people, CAL FIRE said they are working with hotels and universities across the state to provide separate housing for people who must evacuate from their homes. Evacuees who are taken to large evacuation centers will be given masks to wear, be physically distanced, and undergo temperature checks.

Meals for evacuees will also come individually boxed to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus. The state will also build up the nursing and medical staff at shelters.

Newsom said that the state is also buckling down on Pacific Gas and Electric, which is now out of bankruptcy. He said the company would need to increase their efforts to prevent wildfires from starting because of their equipment. The governor said the company needs to invest $5 billion into updating their infrastructure, and the state can intervene if work is complete.

The peak of the fire season is set to go through October. Firefighters have doused 4,112 brush fires, but Newsom said that the number of acres that have burned is relatively lower than last year.

California reported 7,031 new coronavirus cases overnight, and the state's positivity rate increased to 7.3%. Hospitalizations were up by 44%, the governor added.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said state health officials are still monitoring 26 counties for worsening COVID-19 spread. Newsom also announced that Tulare and Kings counties were among a group of four counties that are receiving heavy intervention from the state.

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