AUBURN (CBS13) — Firefighters are battling two enemies this summer season: wildfires and a global pandemic. One battle is more familiar than the other.

“We’re having to see how the effects of COVID-19 are impacting our efforts in firefighting,” Chief Brian Estes with Cal Fire Nevada, Yuba, Placer said.

Cal Fire crews have been short inmate hand crews this fire season after several inmate fire camps were put into lockdown due to possible COVID-19 exposure. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) says no inmates have tested positive and the lockdowns will soon be lifted.

“We are down in excess of about 49 of our hand crews,”  Estes said.

Gov. Newsom is using more than $72 million to hire upwards of 800 seasonal firefighters. Included in that is an unprecedented program that will form the professional Firefighter One Hand Crew.

A hand crew comprised of inmates helps fight a vegetation fire.

“We’re going to use them in the exact same manner as have used our inmate crews in the past,” Estes said.

READ: Cal Fire: Coronavirus Brings ‘Different Dynamic’ When It Comes To Upcoming Fire Season Preps

Cal Fire is not the only agency that’s had to make adjustments in the age of coronavirus.

“COVID-19 has changed all our lives including our response,” Nuriddin Ziyadin with the American Red Cross said.

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Shelters and gymnasiums are no longer the go-to options for evacuees due to lack of social distancing space.

“Our preferred choice is hotels motels and then the dorms,” Ziyadin said.

But if those aren’t available, they’ll have to resort to shelters where things will look a lot different.

“We would have a tent outside with a Red Cross nurse with a public health nurse to take temperatures. Cots would be a lot further apart in order to follow social distancing. Our food will be wrapped. It will be individually prepared,” Ziyadin said.

Normal shelter capacity is 200 people but in the age of coronavirus, they’ll only be able to take in less than 50.

Another concern the American Red Cross has is a lack of volunteers. A number of the volunteers are older and potentially more at risk of catching COVID-19, so flying them in for additional help could be a safety issue.


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