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KUNR Public Radio is a proud partner in the Mountain West News Bureau, a partnership of public media stations that serve Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming. The mission is to tell stories about the people, places and issues of the Mountain West.

Wildfires Are One Danger. Wildfire Camps Are Another.

Firefighters in line for dinner at a fire camp.
Firefighters in line for dinner at a fire camp.

Many parts of the Mountain West are predicted to have above normal wildfire potential this summer. The coronavirus promises to make fire season abnormal in other ways, too.

Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser says some impacts are already being felt.

"We've drastically changed our training regime for the spring," he said. "A lot of the larger fire schools have been canceled just because you can't get that many people together."

He says many classes have moved online. But not all firefighting can be taught virtually, so some classes have been reduced in size to allow social distancing.

The big concern, though, is large fires and the large fire camps that accompany them, which Crapser describes as a "breeding ground for any type of colds or viruses."

"[We're] trying to take some precautions to avoid as many large camps as possible," he said.

That could mean aggressive early suppression in some cases, or reducing the size of camps by moving technical support staff, for example, to remote locations, Crapser said. Agencies may also pivot to more aviation resources, limit the number of people on a fire engine, and use more spike camps, which have fewer people, and are closer to the fire line.

And he stresses the added onus on the public, too: "The fewer human-caused fires we have, the less potential we have for large fires, and the need to have that many people in one spot."

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Maggie Mullen, at mmullen5@uwyo.edu.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Do you have questions about COVID-19? How has this crisis affected you? Our reporters would love to hear from you. You can submit your question or share your story here.

Copyright 2020 Wyoming Public Radio

Maggie Mullen is a fifth generation Wyomingite, born and raised in Casper. She is currently a Masters candidate in American Studies and will defend her thesis on female body hair in contemporary American culture this May. Before graduate school, she earned her BA in English and French from the University of Wyoming. Maggie enjoys writing, cooking, her bicycle, swimming in rivers and lakes, and most any dog.
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