Amidst the pandemic, Southern Oregon declared its earliest fire season in more than fifty years on May 1, 2020. Fire agencies throughout Southern Oregon prepared for the deadly wildfire season by following a best practices document from the Rogue Valley Fire Chief Association in coordination with the State Fire Marshall’s Office.
“Last year we had to make some adjustments to make sure that everyone was staying safe, that was implementing social distancing and easier ways for fire crews to spread out at camp as well as on the line,” Natalie Weber, public information officer for Oregon Department of Forestry, Southwest Oregon district said. “This year we have the vaccine so that’s just an added measure that we’ll have in our back pocket.”
Fire Camps, where 600 to 2,000 people eat, shower, and sleep were impacted the most by the guidelines set out in the best practices document. Sleeping tents were spread out and box lunches were provided for three meals a day. Weber said ODF will continue to follow those best practices this upcoming wildfire season.
“I think a lot of the measures that we put in place really paid off because we didn’t have any outbreaks of Covid on the fires that we had, it was something that was really well thought out, and a lot was put into those preparations to make sure that we didn’t have to deal with that on top of an already stressful situation,” Weber said.
Along with Wildland firefighters, Brown has also noted the following individuals will qualify beginning March 29:
45 to 64 year-olds with pre-existing conditions
People in agricultural work like migrant seasonal farmworkers
Food processing workers
People who are houseless and those living in low income congregate housing
ODF is working with the Oregon Health Authority to plan for vaccine arrival and distribution. Weber said they will distribute the vaccine to year round employees first followed by seasonal firefighters.
“It’s just one more line of defense for the people who want the vaccination. It’s fortunate they have that ability to have it,” Weber said.
By May 1, the state expects the following groups will be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine:
CDC’s definition of frontline workers
People 16-45 with preexisting conditions
Multi-generational household members
All Oregonians over the age of 16 should be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine no later than July 1.