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COVID-19 Worsening Impact of Wildfires

More than 2.5 million acres of California have burned this year, surpassing the state’s previous wildfire seasons for total acreage burned, according to a new data report from CoreLogic, which added that latest Climate Prediction Center forecast extending through November indicates drought conditions will likely persist across the state.

CoreLogic observed [1] that the August Complex Fire, which began as 38 separate fires ignited in mid-August by lightning strike within the Coast Range of Northern California, has burned through more than 746,000 acres and destroyed more than 25 structures, making it the largest fire in California history. California’s SCU Complex saw more than 396,000 acres and 224 structures destroyed during the past month while the LNU Complex saw the destruction of more than 375,000 acres and 1,030 structures. As a result, these became, respectively, the second and third largest fires in California history.

Complicating matters has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in fighting California’s wildfires. CoreLogic’s new data report found “COVID-19 quarantine measures have resulted in significant staff shortages for fire suppression management. Many fire academies this year were canceled, such as in Washington state where three of their canceled fire academies were meant to train 4,500 firefighters. Additionally, wildfire management sites, which are typically high in density with poor sanitary conditions, are making virus transmission more likely.”

CoreLogic also noted that many firefighters have already been tested positive for COVID-19--San Jose’s fire department reported 10% of its workforce were exposed to the virus by early April.

“Lower staffing could mean that many of these firefighters will have to work on fires for 40-45 days with no breaks,” CoreLogic noted. “The pandemic combined with drought conditions throughout the west is making this year an especially tough one for fire management.”

California is not alone in facing record wildfires this year. CoreLogic stated that Colorado’s Pine Gulch Fire in August became the state’s largest fire with more than 139,000 acres burned, while the Cameron Peak Fire expanded to over 100,000 acres during the Labor Day weekend.

CoreLogic added that during the last 15 years, 15 states accounted for 93% of all wildfire acreage per year and more than 98% of wildfire-related property losses, including nearly 2 million single-family residences and $638 billion in reconstruction value.