Gov. Newsom making efforts to protect firefighters during COVID-19 pandemic

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- As they battle intense flames and smoke of wildfires burning across the state, CAL FIRE crews aren't exempt from COVID-19 precautions.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and the office of emergency services made the announcement Thursday, saying protecting firefighters from illness while they protect us from wildfires is a top priority.

"CAL FIRE never just has a plan A," says CAL FIRE Fresno County Batallion Chief Seth Brown. "We always have A, B, C, D and E.

Brown says they've been preparing for a socially distant fire season for months, conducting drills to set up base camps.

"As fast as the incident commander is ordering more firefighters and equipment to fight the fire, we need to plan how to logistically support these firefighters," he said.

Depending on the size of the fire and resources available, base camps will either take up a larger area or will be set up in multiple locations.

Each strike team or engine company will be considered a family unit. They'll have to keep to their unit for fighting fire, sleeping, showering even eating separately.

"That will impact the comradery a little bit, but we're all out here together," Brown said. "We know the challenges we're faced with and we're all maintaining that social distancing just to stay safe."

Briefings will be virtual, and non-essential base camp staff will be kept off-site.

The state hired close to 900 firefighters to take the place of inmate crews that would create fuel breaks by cutting hand lines.

They've also staffed more bulldozers and increased training for fuel crews that typically do fire prevention work leading up to fire season.

"They are now trained and ready to respond to fires and cut handline on the fire's edge," Brown said.

Evacuations will also be handled differently.

"There will be temperatures checks, there will be mandatory mask-wearing," says Mark Ghilarducci with the CA Governor's Office of Emergency Services. "We will set up shelters that have appropriate social distancing."

State officials will add additional staff at shelters to conduct health screenings, intensive cleaning and offer medical care.

Rather than set up one large evacuation center, the governor is working with the hotel industry to discuss options for those displaced by fire.
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