Welcome to the worst wildfire season on record in the state of California. This would be challenging in a stand-alone way, but coupled with a once-in-a-century pandemic, this has been a period like no other in any of our lifetimes.
The air quality experienced in Three Rivers this past month, and at times up and down the entire West Coast, has been some of the worst in the world due to thick, black, debris-filled smoke due to wildfires. Smoke is one thing, but at the same time a highly transmissible, lung-centric virus is making the rounds, and this creates health challenges for so many, especially the elderly, the immune-compromised, and the most vulnerable of the population. Wildfire Meets Pandemic
There has been a significant uptick in emergency room visits throughout the state recently due to asthma. Stanford University researchers have determined that at least 1,200 people, and as many as 3,000, have died so far as a result of inhaling the toxic smoke that has blanketed California for weeks.
According to CALFIRE, since the beginning of the year, there have been over 8,100 wildfires that have burned more than 3.8 million acres in California. That’s about 5,800 square miles of land, larger than the state of Connecticut.
Since August 15, when California’s fire activity took a serious turn, there have been 29 deaths and well over 7,600 structures destroyed. And wildfire season is barely just beginning. ildfire Meets Pandemic
This would be a tough year for California firefighters and residents anyway. Whether fighting fire or preparing to evacuate. But firefighters now must be retrained to follow COVID-19 health guidelines. And staying in a shelter or anywhere that is not “home” means some intense physical distancing challenges.
Evacuating thousands of families also means people are moving to different locations. Firefighters and other personnel also are traveling to work locations as assigned. This is travel that, of course, has to occur, but is also one of the ways the deadly virus spreads its tentacles in its attempts to reach everyone.
And the Three Rivers community’s small businesses are facing their own challenges to their livelihood. The national parks have closed twice this year. Visitors are cancelling vacation plans due to smoke and threat of fire. The air is hazardous to breathe so not even locals want to venture out for shopping or dining. And if they do, then there are the COVID safety issues to contend with. It has been a trying year.
One of the greatest stress relievers for COVID-19 is to go outdoors where it’s easy to stay distanced from other humans and provides the freedom of escaping the four walls of home for a little while. In Three Rivers, smoke has made outside activity an unhealthy prospect for the past five weeks. And much of the public land — Sequoia National Park, Sequoia National Forest, Salt Creek trails — is closed off and inaccessible to the public. Wildfire Meets Pandemic
Also — and because it’s 2020 there is always more — the looming fall/winter flu season could cause respiratory challenges. People with the seasonal flu won’t know if it’s the flu or COVID, and people with COVID won’t know for certain either. Testing will be the only way to obtain an official diagnosis.
To end on a positive note, if everyone wears a mask to avoid transmitting COVID, it could not only prevent the spread of the coronavirus but also this year’s flu virus and maybe, just maybe, the flu won’t be able to get a firm hold this year.
Return to the front page.