MCCLELLAN PARK, Calif. (KTXL) — With COVID-19 cases on the rise, fire crews are preparing to not only battle wildfires but also this virus.
Cal Fire says it’s next to impossible for some ground crews to keep 6 feet between them. It’s why aircraft will be even more important this year.
“I think aviation assets are going to be the key to response this year,” said Global Supertanker COO John Winder.
Winder explained his crew is training at McClellan Airfield this week on the 747-400.
It’s the largest firefighting aircraft in the world, packing more than 19,000 gallons of water.
Winder is expecting a busy few months traveling to wildfires across the country, especially due to COVID-19.
“It’s going to be very difficult, if not impossible, for ground firefighters to maintain social distancing and still do their job on the fire line,” Winder told FOX40.
So, he said aircraft will need to be deployed often and quickly.
“A rapid initial attack means keep the fire small,” he said. “Less people committed, less likelihood of people contracting COVID.”
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Dusty Martin said they’ll be able to call in the supertanker for help if need be. But they’re also making sure their aircraft are ready.
“Our aircraft within Cal Fire are spread out throughout the state to where we’ll have aircraft over any fire in 20 minutes,” Martin said.
But he knows ground crews will still be necessary, so they’re working to try to keep them safe from the virus.
“We’re looking at ways to possibly spread out our base camps so we don’t have 5,000 people in a small area, to do the health monitoring and check temperatures daily on all firefighters,” he explained.
“Anytime you start seeing activity like this this early in the year there’s certainly a potential for a pretty busy fire season,” Winder said.
With some of the state’s larger fires, California relies on fire crews from out of state and other countries to come in and help. Even with COVID-19, Cal Fire said they’re confident their partners will still travel to help if need be.