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BC Wildfire Service plans for season in wake of COVID-19

Wildfire season begins today, and the BC Wildfire Service is developing protocols to deal with COVID-19 while prepping for the upcoming season.
B.C. wildfire, firefighter, generic photo
A firefighter sprays water at the site of wildfire in B.C.

Wildfire season begins today, and the BC Wildfire Service is developing protocols to deal with COVID-19 while prepping for the upcoming season.

The intent is to keep staff safe from the virus while supporting crews and training, said Communications and Engagement Superintendent Jody Lucius.

“We want to maintain a supportive, healthy and resilient workforce, and adapt our operations and responses as necessary,” said Lucius.

Alternative training methods are being adopted, with face to face meetings replaced with teleconference and video conferencing. To help limit the spread and protect employees, reception areas and counter services were closed at all offices as of March 20.

The Wildfire Service continues to hire and train new staff, including firefighters. This year's recruits can expect to be placed in smaller groups, receiving training at local offices instead of large boot camps.

Where possible, Lucius said the service will only engage in non-wildfire field work that has a low risk of COVID-19 exposure for all staff.

Lucius is concerned with the cumulative impacts of the virus, and said the service is closely monitoring effects on prescribed burning, wildfire mitigation projects, and open burning.

“Wildfire activity is currently very low, but as the weeks progress, we will be reviewing options and advising the public if any changes to open burning practices will be necessary,” said Lucius.

The Ministry of Environment has imposed burn restrictions in Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Hudson's Hope, and Chetwynd until April 15, saying poor air quality caused by burning could heighten the risk of COVID-19 infections. 

Email reporter Tom Summer at tsummer@ahnfsj.ca.