Coronavirus and the West’s wildfire season are on a collision course, with the virus on an upswing in several western states that are starting to see increased fire activity, especially those at heightened fire risk during July.
This year’s wildfire season will present unprecedented challenges for firefighters, emergency managers and the public, particularly when it comes to evacuations. For example, fire-related evacuations can be hasty when compared to a hurricane, whose track forecast is usually known a few days in advance.
There has been particular concern about a so-called second wave of the virus coinciding with autumn fires in California, which have historically been the most disruptive and deadly blazes. However, it has become clearer in recent weeks that the threat for fires and coronavirus to overlap would start earlier.
Already this week, for example, wildfires have prompted evacuations in Arizona and California.
With increasingly fast-moving wildfires in recent years, and nearly 150 fatalities in California in 2017 and 2018 combined, wildfire evacuations have already become an immense challenge. But during a dangerous wildfire this year, those in a fire’s path will be asked to do the opposite of what they’ve been doing for the last several months: leave home in the middle of a pandemic.
Steve Jensen, an emergency management adviser and lecturer at California State University at Long Beach, who has been working on issues surrounding wildfire and covid-19, the illness the coronavirus causes, said that emergency agencies will need “a more precise, tighter and coordinated messaging strategy, to make sure that residents understand the gravity of a situation and are ready to move at a moment’s notice.”
If you revisit this past winter the San Juan mountains were below average in Snow/H20 so the Extreme Drought classification should be no surprise.