MISSOULA — Already facing a very difficult fire season, firefighters are back to thinking about something other than the heat and smoke with a return of more COVID-19 precautions.
With renewed concerns over the Delta variant, fire camps are seeing more warning signs and protocols this week.
Following the order of the Regional Forester, camps such as the West Lolo Complex are now following additional precautions such as social distancing and wearing of masks.
Masks are required to be worn when multiple people are inside the camp "yurts" which are used for various operations. Although individuals have more leeway if they are working alone.
Federal agencies have been using extensive protocols since the pandemic started last year.
Lolo National Forest spokeswoman Kateyn Jerman says the additional measures are being taken with cases on the rise again.
She told us "we must continue to take precautions to limit the spread as resources are already stretched across the West. We cannot have a situation in which entire crews or teams have to be quarantined, and we owe it to our firefighters and members of the public to protect them, so these added measures (such as masking and social distancing) are necessary."
Jerman went on to say the Forest Service is "building off lessons learned last summer, and we know we can be successful both in managing the fire situation and limiting the spread of COVID based on our past success, if we all remain diligent."
Nine firefighters working on the massive Bootleg Fire in Oregon had to be quarantined this week after testing positive for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, a new study released earlier this week made new connections between exposure to wildfire smoke and COVID-19, finding there was a 17-percent jump in COVID cases in the Reno area during a "prolonged smoke event" last season. Click here to view a link to that study.