Battling a wildfire is no small task, but coordinating response during a pandemic adds an extra layer of challenges. Sunday night’s two-acre blaze in the Three Mile area of Glenwood Springs was not big enough to bring about those challenges, but gave emergency officials a chance to assess what could have happened had the fire spread further.
“Because of the COVID environment and our lack of experience in how some of that was going to work out, we would have been inventing things on the fly I think,” said Glenwood Springs fire chief Gary Tillotson.
The wildfire was controlled by the collective efforts of 42 firefighters, using two water tenders, seven fire engines, and seven command vehicles. But many components of wildfire response procedures would have been impacted had it continued to grow.
“Even fire briefings have taken on a new complexion about trying to get 20 or 30 people standing in a circle and doing a briefing,” Tillotson said. “If we had 100 evacuees, how do we maintain social distancing, even outdoors?”
A small number of residents were evacuated from homes and told to evacuate to Glenwood Springs High School.
“Had we had more evacuees or more people there, I would have had to reach out to other agencies like Red Cross and [Garfield County] with their resources.”
Tillotson said a prolonged battle against the fire would have involved firefighters making extended stays. Housing and feeding firefighters under distancing protocols would have been a challenge.
“We just got extremely lucky to have some very efficient folks to keep this one from escalating to all those other steps,” Tillotson said.