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Southern Colorado wildfires raise questions about coronavirus protection for fire crews, evacuees

With the nature of wildfires often requiring fire crews to work closely together, preventing the spread of the coronavirus among firefighters may seem a difficult task.

The frequency of fires early in the 2020 season further raises concern: Bent County has had two fires this week, and three since early April; another fire is currently burning in Huerfano County.

Authorities said they are factoring the impact of the pandemic into their response preparations. For example, the U.S. Forest Service said it will not have firefighters stay at one main base camp. Instead, it will space crews out in smaller groups.

"It's not unusual for us to do that," said USFS spokesman Ralph Bellah. "We call them coyote tactics, or spiking out. Crews will sleep beside the fires and take enough supplies with them to last a week. These wildfires are often in remote areas and getting in and out of them takes time. We'd rather spend that time fighting the fire."

Bellah said crews also will maintain a minimum distance of six feet between each person and wear masks when necessary.

"Sometimes they wear masks anyway to prevent smoke inhalation," he said.

The fire burning 43 acres in Huerfano County, in the Wet Mountains west of Rye, is called the Horse Ranch Fire and was 90% contained as of Friday evening. It was reported Tuesday night and is believed to have been ignited accidentally or intentionally by people.

Rick Stwalley, emergency manager for Bent County, was about to explain how local entities plan to address virus protection when he was called away for two fires burning there.

The largest is the McClave Bridge Fire, burning 260 acres a few miles west of John Martin Reservoir State Park. The park was evacuated Thursday as the fire spread in that direction, but the evacuation was lifted Friday as containment reached 75%.

Another fire was reported on the west side of Las Animas, around 18 miles west of the park, and is believed to have been ignited from sparks by a passing train. No further details were available Friday evening.

Twenty firefighters are at the scene of the Horse Ranch Fire and 55 are working the McClave Bridge Fire.

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.



  1. Remember friends every war that has been fought has been fought with outdated strategies

  2. Why does it seem there are lots of fires in Hanover? Is there an arsonist running around. Should the public be alarmed. There have been lots of fires there.

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