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Navigating Wildfire Season During a Global Pandemic

Disclaimer: This piece was written before the recent wildfire outbreaks in California and beyond. Our entire team at Clarity would like to express our deepest gratitude to first responders and firefighters during this unprecedented time.

We have decided to continue with the release of the article to highlight the new challenges around emergency preparedness and public health as we begin navigating wildfire season during a global pandemic.

In light of recent developments, we are seeing these scenarios playing out in the Apple Fire already, as additional COVID-19 measures are taken into consideration during evacuations.

We hope everyone is prioritizing safety and taking care of each other.

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As peak wildfire season approaches in California, coronavirus adds a variety of unanswered questions to the crisis:

  • Is socially distant fire fighting possible?
  • How can communities safely evacuate while maintaining social distance?
  • How can we minimize wildfire pollution exposure while maintaining social distance?
  • What measures can at-risk citizens take during wildfires?

The influx of wildfire threats that have come with climate change represent a new threat to the health and safety of high risk communities and first responders. Adding a global pandemic to wildfire season contributes greatly to the threat, and many are looking for answers as the two crises collide. 

Social Distancing During Wildfires

The first major question is how firefighting will operate during these challenging times. Firefighters from all over the nation work to quell wildfires. So, with limited resources and travel restrictions due to coronavirus, many are worried if firefighters will be able to operate at full capacity. 

Additionally, the worst wildfires usually require thousands of firefighters in one place. Taking the necessary COVID-19 distancing precautions in tight quarters while fighting dangerous wildfires will prove very challenging. Crews will take measures to isolate as a unit, limit the personnel that will have to interact with local communities, and implement typical COVID-19 rules, such as social distancing and wearing a mask. 

When communities evacuate during wildfires, they usually need immediate shelter. However, with coronavirus measures in place, achieving shelter of this magnitude will be much more difficult. California Gov. Gavin Newsom will open hotels to shelter victims of wildfires as well as increase funds to deal with the crisis.



Indoor Air Quality During Wildfires

Due to coronavirus restrictions, many are indoors more frequently. The increased hours we’re spending at home may lead to prolonged exposure to harmful pollutants from wildfire smoke. 

Despite the common assumption that staying indoors will always yield better air quality than outdoors, air quality monitoring has shown us that it’s not always the case.

A building’s HVAC system plays a huge role in determining indoor air quality. Without the proper circulation of fresh air, indoor air quality may get worse, posing health risks to those exposed. The CDC recommends keeping indoor air clean as efficiently as possible.

Vulnerable citizens are at most risk. People with pre-existing health conditions and both younger and older demographics will need to take the most care when exposed to wildfires and poor air quality. Investing in air purifiers for high-risk individuals will help protect people from the health effects of air pollution exposure.


Call to Action

If we wait for wildfires to come, it will likely be too late to act.  This piece from ready.gov explains how to best be safe during a wildfire: prepare now, survive during, be safe after. It’s important to have long-term and short-term plans, especially if the health and well-being of entire zip codes are at risk.

Additionally, monitoring wildfires in your community is essential. In order to plan, you must know what’s coming. OSHA provides this guideline to prepare for facing and evacuating wildfires. 

Real-time air quality monitoring helps you make informed decisions to protect employees and citizens during wildfires . Click here to learn more.


COVID-19 & Wildfires

COVID-19 is the largest global crisis in recent history, and wildfire season is an annual crisis that holds similar threats to our lives, our health, and our homes.. Having these two crises occur at the same time is a daunting prospect. However, if the right measures are put in place and, more importantly, followed, we can get through it together. 

Stay informed, stay vigilant, and stay safe. Being prepared must be the number one priority, in terms of both wildfire and COVID-19 regulations. Listen to your local governments and act accordingly with community guidelines. As these two crises come together, it’s vital to stay safe and healthy.

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