*Current information as of March 25, 2020
While many state and federal agencies across the South have put their prescribed burn programs on hold due to COVID-19, many other agencies and private entities continue to burn. In the Southern U.S., a majority of land is privately owned and prescribed burn efforts are still continuing through some NGOs, private landowners, and groups such as Prescribed Burn Associations. For those continuing to burn, it is essential that personnel practice proper social distancing and hygiene before, during, and after the burn.
For basic information on how to protect yourself and those around you from COVID-19, review and practice the Center for Disease Control’s “How to Protect Yourself” guidelines. Before you choose to burn, review all COVID-19 related restrictions and regulations implemented by your local jurisdiction. If you cannot implement a prescribed fire while complying with your local jurisdiction’s regulations and ensuring the health and safety of those burning with you, do not burn.
The following tips are suggested for landowners and other non-agency prescribed burners (as modified from the Bureau of Land Management’s Social Distance and Hygiene Tips for Firefighters and the NWCG Infectious Disease Guidance for Wildland Fire Incidents). If you work for an agency, please refer to your agency’s guidelines instead.
• Wash hands frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing, after touching commonly touched surfaces like portable bathroom doors, tables, and equipment, when preparing food, before and after meals, and after using the restroom. Wash hands regularly for 20 seconds with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub. If soap and water are not readily available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol should be used.
• Cover your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue or flexed elbow when you cough or sneeze. Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean (recently washed or sanitized as described above). If using a tissue, immediately throw away the tissue away after use and wash or sanitize your hands as described above.
• Do not share water bottles, community food containers, PPE, or other personal items such as tobacco products, snacks, etc.
• If you feel sick or have any flu like symptoms or have been exposed to others exhibiting symptoms or diagnosed with COVID-19, do not come to work and seek medical attention according to the guidelines issued by your local public health officials.
• Avoid close contact (less than six feet of distance between people) whenever possible.
• Have a plan for where to go and seek help to maintain physical and mental health.
• Avoid group physical training (PT) and consider exercise outdoors: run, hike, or bike with separation.
• Hold open air crew meetings, briefings, training, and After Action Reviews with enough room to maintain appropriate social distancing.
• Consider alternative methods to present and attend training (online, VTC, conference call, etc.)
• Disinfect surfaces with all-purpose cleaner, commercial disinfecting wipes or disinfecting solution of diluted home bleach (4 teaspoons bleach per for each quart of water or 1/3 cup bleach per gallon of water).
• Disinfect mobile phones and hand radios regularly.
• Keep hand sanitizer with you and in your vehicle.
• Don’t use other workers’ phones or other work tools and equipment, when possible.
• Consider using an increased number of vehicles during crew transports whenever possible to allow more separation within each vehicle. Plan for these extra vehicles when arriving at the burn unit and working on the fireline.
• Carry disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and soap and water in fire vehicles and use these items frequently.
• Minimize sharing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as fire resistant clothing, gloves, etc. by multiple personnel and disinfect between uses.
• To disinfect fire equipment, most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work. See CDC’s recommendations for household cleaning and disinfection.
Be prepared for the possibility that there may be limited access to burn units or other burners may be sick when you’re planning to burn in the future.
• Choose burn units that already have well-defined firebreaks so that day-of firebreak prep can be conducted with a minimal number of people.
• Consider smaller and/or less technical burns that require fewer people.
• Consider areas to implement mechanical thinning, herbicide, or other means when prescribed burning is not an option.
• Be sure that your burn plan is current, and only choose to move forward with a burn if you are in compliance with the burn plan, including having the minimum number of crew members.
- Center for Disease Control’s “How to Protect Yourself” guidelines.
- NWCG Infectious Disease Guidance for Wildland Fire Incidents, Emergency Medical Committee: https://www.nwcg.gov/committees/emergency-medical-committee/infectious-disease-guidance
- EMS Infectious Disease Playbook: https://files.asprtracie.hhs.gov/documents/aspr-tracie-transport-playbook-508.pdf
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov
- Infection Control After a Disaster: https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/infectioncontrol.html
- Response Worker Health and Safety: https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/workers.html
- COVID-19 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/2019-ncov-factsheet.pdf