From left, Wes Atwood, Branden Campbell, Shayla Adkins and Joshua Scott work to put out a hot spot at a fire outside Oso on May 18, 2016. Firefighters are adopting new safety measures amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

From left, Wes Atwood, Branden Campbell, Shayla Adkins and Joshua Scott work to put out a hot spot at a fire outside Oso on May 18, 2016. Firefighters are adopting new safety measures amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Washington firefighters prepare for wildfires amid virus

Care is taken to avoid sharing tools, use separate vehicles and sanitize equipment after each shift.

Associated Press

MOUNT VERNON — Washington state firefighters are preparing for a season of potential summer wildfires while adopting new health safety measures amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added a new layer of uncertainty to the work of preparing for wildfire season, The Skagit Valley Herald reported Sunday.

A period of dry spring weather was followed by an onslaught of rain, sending mixed signals about the likelihood for major fires this summer.

The emergence of the coronavirus has meant firefighters also have to rethink how to work without infecting each other.

Firefighters are screened when reporting to work. Their temperatures are taken and they answer health questions such as whether they have had sore throats or fevers in recent weeks, and if they have traveled or been exposed to anyone with COVID-19.

Care is taken in the field to avoid sharing tools, move individuals and groups in as many separate vehicles as possible and sanitize vehicle interiors and equipment at the end of each shift.

Firefighters are also equipped with face masks for work that requires being in close proximity.

“Fire season isn’t going away. We can’t just work from home or take the summer off,” Jason McMillen said during a state Department of Natural Resources annual training last week.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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