DNR is taking immediate steps to make vaccines available at fire camps to facilitate vaccination of firefighters in Washington
information released by Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Justin Haug Photo
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, leader of Washington state’s wildfire fighting force, today called on the federal Departments of Agriculture and the Interior to take additional steps to secure our nation’s wildfire response capability by requiring COVID-19 vaccinations of their wildland firefighting forces. In a letter to Secretaries Haaland and Vilsack, Franz also called for the deployment of federal resources to make vaccinations available at all fire camps on federal land, a measure DNR has already implemented within its jurisdictions to protect firefighters from COVID-19 and the rapidly spreading Delta Variant.
Last week, a federal crew on its way to the Muckamuck Fire was forced to turn back due to its members contracting COVID-19. Washington DNR and contracted personnel are experiencing increased rates of infection as the peak of fire season nears. Already, this has resulted in the removal of engines and grounding of aircraft due to COVID-19 infections among firefighters and pilots.
“Pulling resources from the fight, when we are already stretched thin, has made a bad situation worse,” said Commissioner Franz. “We cannot afford to lose a single firefighter or tool in our arsenal given the unprecedented fire danger that is threatening Washington’s communities. Already, a record-breaking number of fires have burned almost half a million acres of Washington lands. And, with high temperatures and drought conditions expected to continue, there is no relief on the horizon.”
The letter follows a new vaccine requirement for all DNR employees, including its wildland firefighters, effective October 18. DNR will be making vaccines available at DNR fire camps to facilitate vaccination for Washington firefighters. Vaccination sites at DNR fire camps will be open to all personnel from any jurisdiction, not just DNR firefighters.
“Given the increased fire danger and deployment of federal firefighting forces across the Western United States, our mandate alone will not fully protect firefighters from the spread of COVID-19,” Franz writes. “We cannot combat the increasing threat of catastrophic wildfire, however, without first prioritizing the health and safety of the firefighters who are on the frontlines.”
With more than 1,650 fires this year, Washington has already surpassed the total number of fires that occurred in all of 2020.
The full letter can be viewed HERE.
Led by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the Department of Natural Resources is Washington State’s wildfire firefighting force, responsible for preventing and fighting wildfires on 13 million acres of private, state, and tribal-owned lands. The men and women of DNR are committed to ensuring Washington’s lands, waters and communities are protected – both today and for future generations.