Forest Service reluctant to reveal how many firefighters have been hospitalized or killed in the line of duty by COVID-19

Wildland firefighters in the Departments of Agriculture and Interior need to be exfiltrated, and given refuge in the Department of Homeland Security

Revised at 6:56 p.m. PDT Sept. 10, 2021

Ukonom hand crew from the Six Rivers National Forest
Ukonom hand crew from the Six Rivers National Forest. USFS photo, 2021.

Since March, 2020, 680 U.S. Forest Service employees in the agency’s California Region have tested positive for COVID-19 according to Anthony Scardina on September 7, 2021, the Deputy Regional Forester for State and Private Forestry. Of those, 561 were wildland firefighters, he said. *Stanton Florea, Fire Communications Specialist for the Forest Service at the National Interagency Fire Center said on Sept. 8 that approximately 918 wildland fire employees within the entire agency have tested positive for the virus.

Mr. Florea said they do not formally track the number of their employees that have been hospitalized with COVID.

In the last week word leaked that one of those firefighters who tested positive died due to the coronavirus, and a reporter discovered that another died of an unspecified illness. Subsequently, the Lassen National Forest released a statement late at night September 5 confirming the two fatalities and the names of the deceased, but nothing about the cause of death, dates, or the location.

Marcus Pacheco was an assistant engine operator who had 13 years of fire experience with CAL FIRE and 30 with the FS. He died of an unspecified illness while working on the Dixie Fire.

Allen Johnson was a semi-retired 40-year FS veteran and was serving as a Liaison Officer on an Incident Management Team on the French Fire when he contracted COVID.

During an interview September 7 with Wildfire Today we asked Mr. Scardina how many FS firefighters had died in the line of duty after contracting COVID.

“I’m not going to report fatalities of our employees when it comes to personal illnesses and other privacy matters in terms of deaths at this point in time,” he said.  “We’re taking a look at those situations, what the review process will be to make sure we understand the facts. And it’s just simply too early out of respect for the family of being appropriate for us to comment at this point in time on those situations.

The deaths were first officially announced to the public in a manner more formal than Facebook Sept. 7, 2021 by Mr. Scardina at a news conference. It was tweeted by both the FS and the California Office of Emergency Services. The CAL OES recording below had much better audio than the FS version.

On September 8 Mr. Florea said there have been two deaths of FS fire personnel that are suspected to be related to COVID. Requests for more details, such as names, dates, name of fire, or location did not receive a response, so it is not certain if these two are the fatalities disclosed by Mr. Scardina on September 7, who also provided no details.

Historically the FS has disclosed fatalities within 24 to 48 hours. The agency usually waits until the families are notified before releasing the names of the deceased, which may take a little longer. Most of the time the general circumstances will also be released, such as hit by a falling tree, vehicle accident, or entrapped by a fire. But for firefighters who contracted COVID on the job, the FS has been extremely reluctant to disclose any information about these line of duty hospitalizations and deaths. The agency’s public information officers whose job is to inform America about FS activities, fires, and circumstances that affect the health and safety of their employees and the public, have been keeping it secret, slow-walking and dissembling when finally responding to requests from journalists about line of duty illnesses and deaths of fire personnel.

One firefighter told Wildfire Today about something he noticed about supervisory personnel at fires. “I’m noticing that all Incident Management Team members are wearing wristbands and being screened everyday,” he said. “This is not happening for firefighters. They are wearing colored wristbands to show they cleared the screening, but nothing for firefighters.”

The firefighter said in order to help protect his family when he got home, he asked to get tested while being demobilized from the fire, but the request was denied.

We are hearing rumblings that some fires are being hit very hard by COVID, with large numbers of personnel testing positive or being quarantined but this is difficult to confirm without the agencies’ cooperation.


Fighting wildfires has always had a long list of recognized risks. An analysis by the National Interagency Fire Center determined that from 1990 through 2014 there were 440 fatalities in the line of duty among wildland firefighters. The top four categories which accounted for 88 percent of the deaths were, in decreasing order, medical issues (usually heart related), aircraft accidents, vehicle accidents, and being entrapped by the fire.

The COVID pandemic adds a new category and level of risk from which these firefighters now have to defend themselves. They already wear Kevlar chaps to prevent a chain saw from cutting into their leg, a helmet, leather gloves, hearing protection, safety glasses, fire resistant shirts and pants, and a five-pound foldable shelter to climb under when entrapped by a fire.

Many of these highly-trained firefighters comprise more than 100 hotshot crews. They are tactical athletes who carry more than 30 pounds of gear up and down steep, rugged terrain for up to 16 hours every day while battling a fire, sometimes miles from the nearest vehicle. They immerse themselves in wildland fire science and fire behavior to anticipate what the fire will do in order to avoid unnecessary exposure to risks.

But now their employer, the US Forest Service, is reluctant to fully disclose to them a key fact related to their safety — how many of their fellow firefighters have been hospitalized or killed in the line of duty by COVID.

Ventana Hotshots firefighters Monument Fire
Ventana Hotshots holding a line on the Monument Fire in Northern California, August, 2021. USFS photo.

The FS has not been disclosing COVID line of duty deaths the same way they announced that two firefighters were killed in an airplane crash or one died after being hit by a falling tree, all within the last two months.

COVID among firefighters is not really a “personal illness”, as described Mr. Scardina, when it is caused by a requirement from their employer, for example, to travel across the country and work with 4,809 others at the Dixie Fire in California. For decades the Forest Service and the other four federal land management agencies have, as far as we know, reported all line of duty deaths, including illnesses such as cardiac issues, which might be described as a “personal illness”.

It is puzzling that the leadership in the federal wildland fire organizations are so scared or reluctant to talk about the effects of COVID on their work force. I don’t see any upside in a doomed-to-fail effort to keep it secret. Maybe it is a holdover thought process from the previous administration whose leader said at least 38 times in 2020 between February and October that COVID-19 is either going to disappear or is currently disappearing.

By refusing to be transparent about pandemic related illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths on the job, the perception could be that the government has something to hide or they want to restrict the disclosure of news that could reflect negatively on the administration. It would be impossible to argue that withholding this information is in the best interests of the employees. And it degrades the trust that an employee would hope to have in their leadership.

Far more important than protecting the political future of the President, is being honest with their firefighters about the degree of risk they are taking while serving their country battling wildfires.

Something has to change

Federal wildland firefighters work for the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service. The first responsibility of these agencies is the safety of their personnel, including the 15,000 firefighters. If they are so cavalier about this responsibility to not even care how many have been hospitalized in the line of duty, and keep secret as much as possible the extent of how many have gotten seriously ill or died from COVID while working for them, then something has to change.

The primary job of these five agencies is not fighting fire — it is very far from it. They inspect meat packing plants, issue what used to be called Food Stamps, clean rest rooms, manage visitors, and grow trees. Those at the top of the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior where they presently reside, in most cases have no background in emergency services. It is not in their DNA to worry night and day about those under their command being injured or killed in the line of duty. Career fire personnel understand this.

The firefighters in these five agencies need to be exfiltrated from the DOI and DOA and given refuge in a new agency within the Department of Homeland Security where top management pays attention to the risks emergency management personnel face. If I was a betting man, I would wager that they care how many of their employees have been killed or hospitalized by COVID, at least publicly to the extent allowed by the White House.

This new agency of 15,000 wildland firefighters could be named National Fire Service. It could even welcome the structural firefighters that work for the Department of Defense.

Below are the stated values and principles of wildland fire leaders. They may have been forgotten by a few at the top of the five federal wildland fire management organizations.

Duty Respect Integrity
Wildland Fire Leadership Values and Principles.

*At 6:56 p.m. PDT the article was edited to correct the numbers of Forest Service fire personnel who tested positive for COVID since March, 2020; 918 nationally, and 561 in the California Region (R5). The regional and national numbers do not conflict. 

Two firefighters at California fires died, one from COVID, the other from unspecified illness

Updated at 8:53 a.m. PDT Sept. 5, 2021

US Army soldiers fire training
Active duty US Army soldiers receive fire training before assisting at the Dixie Fire Sept. 1, 2021. About 200 soldiers have been activated to assist with wildfires in California. InciWeb.

Two firefighters assigned to wildfires in California have died.

One of two emails sent to employees on the Stanislaus National Forest about the fatality of one of their employee/retirees said he “passed away earlier this week due to complications of COVID-19 while assigned to the French Fire near Kernville, CA. He had been hospitalized in Bakersfield.”

The person’s name has not been released by the Stanislaus, but at least three sources confirm it was Allen Johnson.

Allen Johnson
Allen Johnson. USFS.

Allen was a Forest Service retiree and was working as an Administratively Determined (AD) employee on the French Fire. The email to the forest’s staff said it’s very early in the process, but “Tentative plans for honoring Allen include a Dignified Transport of remains followed by a Memorial Service. To the best of our current knowledge, Allen’s dignified transport and Memorial Service will occur on or after September 26.”

California Interagency Incident Management Team 14 posted on Facebook Sept. 1, 2021, “Our team, the firefighting community, and the world lost a great friend, mentor, teacher and comrade last night. Retired South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team IC and Liaison Officer Allen Johnson passed away from complications related to COVID 19.”

So in the absence of official information from the US Forest Service about this line of duty death, it appears from the post by his incident management team that Allen died August 31, 2021.

Saturday night NBC Bay Area reported another fatality — a US Forest Service firefighter assigned to the Dixie Fire near Susanville, California.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service told NBC Bay Area Saturday that the firefighter, an employee with the Lassen National Forest died from an illness. The official added that the firefighter’s death was not related to the fire. No other details have been released at this time.

The official information from CAL FIRE about the Dixie Fire confirms there was a first responder fatality from an illness on September 2.

UPDATE at 11:08 a.m. PDT Sept. 6, 2021: NEWS4 reported today that the US Forest Service said the firefighter that died who had been assigned to the Dixie Fire was Marcus Pacheco, an assistant fire engine operator for the Lassen NF with 30 years of fire experience. He passed away Sept. 2 from what the USFS is calling an "unspecified illness". Late at night on September 5 the Lassen National Forest created a post on Facebook announcing the two fatalities and confirming the names.

The Dixie Fire has burned more than 889,000 acres near Susanville, California and is still actively spreading.

The 25,000-acre French Fire is west of Kernville, California.

Last week a strike team of five engines with 16 firefighters on the Caldor Fire near Lake Tahoe was quarantined for two weeks due to one of their members testing positive for COVID. There have been other reports of firefighters and crews sidelined, quarantined, or sickened, but specifics are hard to come by.

Two weeks ago Wildfire Today asked the five federal land management agencies for the number of their firefighters that have tested positive for COVID or had to quarantine after exposure. All five refused to release any information on the topic and would not explain their reasoning for keeping it secret. On September 2 we asked the US Forest Service again for the numbers of their firefighters who have tested positive for COVID, were hospitalized, or died. We are still waiting for the answers.

We send out our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of the two firefighters who passed away while on duty.

(Edited to include the names of the firefighters.)

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to people who passed along this information.

California wildfire discussed briefly during White House press briefing

A reporter asked if there were enough fire resources available

The Caldor Fire southwest Lake Tahoe in California and the availability of firefighting resources were very briefly discussed at the White House press briefing Monday afternoon. The video above should be queued up to where the topic began at 1:07:13.

In response to a reporter asking if there were enough fire resources, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “Well, that is our objective. We will continue to assess if additional resources are needed and again I would note that when the President came in he looked at the impact of wildfires and the fact that in the past there have been cases where we didn’t have the resources needed and he wanted to preemptively take steps to prepare for that, to make sure we had those resources as we went into fire season.”


It is unclear to me what steps were taken that made a big difference in the availability of firefighting resources during this Western fire season. However the President did apply pressure to help make all eight military Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems (MAFFS) available that can convert a C-130 into an air tanker. At the time only five were working and the Air Force apparently had difficulty staffing the MAFFS operation with trained and qualified flight and support crews.

And 200 soldiers are being trained now to serve as hand crews. But that does not make up for the fact that Pew Charitable Trusts reported in July the Forest Service’s California Region had not filled 725 of the planned 4,620 fire positions, illustrating a serious problem with retention and recruitment.

There are still only 18 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts, and many of them are working on absurd one-year contracts. On May 17, 2021 Fire Aviation was told by a spokesperson for the US Forest Service that this year they would have 34 large air tankers (LATs) if needed — 18 on Exclusive Use Contracts guaranteed to work, 8 “surge” LATs guaranteed to work for a shorter period of time, and another 8 on Call When Needed (CWN) contracts. Of those 16 surge and CWN aircraft, only 5 could be produced.

COVID has had an effect on the number of federal firefighters available. We asked the five federal land management agencies for the number of firefighters that have tested positive for COVID or had to quarantine after exposure. 1All five refused to release any information on the topic and would not explain their reasoning for keeping it secret. This is ridiculous for organizations that say they care about the health and safety of their employees who have a right to know the severity of the additional risks they are taking on while in a job already recognized as being hazardous.

It tends to indicate that a pandemic can be politicized to the point where the Park Service, Forest Service, BIA, BLM, and FWS will not even discuss to what degree it is degrading their fire preparedness, if at all. What is next? Refusing to acknowledge injuries and fatalities caused by vehicle accidents and hazardous trees?

In the 12-step program for AA, the first is important, admitting to yourself and others that you have a problem. I’ll very loosely paraphrase it, bending it just a bit for this situation: “We admitted we were powerless over [confessing to problems with COVID, recruitment, and retention] and that our [fires] had become unmanageable.”

The act of keeping it secret leads one to believe it is a very serious issue. Welcome to 2021.

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center recently issued information about six examples of COVID exposure on fires. Here is a portion of one about a hotshot crew that was affected in July, 2021, when 18 of them were exposed to a crewmember who tested positive. Two crewmembers left the fire early and were not exposed:

Of the 18 crewmembers who returned from assignment on June 22nd, 3 were fully vaccinated and returned to work on June 25th. The remaining employees (15) have not returned to work; the sick employee was put into isolation and the remaining close contacts on the crew were told to self-quarantine for 14-days by unit leaders. The 2 crewmembers who returned early (1 vaccinated) were not impacted. None of the vaccinated employees got sick while 6 of the unvaccinated employees have tested positive.

(If you would like to leave a comment about this topic, great — as long as it is on the topic of wildfire management, and does not veer into politics or personal attacks. Offending comments will be removed, as stated in our policy, or comments will be turned off.)

1Wildfire Today asked the National Interagency Fire Center several questions last week about the availability of resources, working through Candice Stevenson of the National Park Service whose turn it was last week to serve as PIO for NIFC. Generally, clear answers were avoided or not given, including one about the effects of COVID on the firefighting force. When I asked for more information Ms. Stevenson offered to ask each of the five agencies for the numbers of firefighters affected by COVID. I accepted the offer. She responded much more quickly than expected, saying, “I received notification from DOI and USFS and they are declining to provide further input.” I asked her by email on August 27 what the reason was for them not making the information available. There was no reply.

Will unvaccinated firefighters be restricted from traveling to fires?

Colorado engine 4321 Dixie Fire
Colorado DFPC SLV Engine 4321 on the Dixie Fire, California, 2021. DFPC photo.

A letter from the US Forest Service’s new Chief, Randy Moore, dated August 17, 2021 could lead a person to believe that Federal firefighters might be restricted from traveling to wildfire assignments. The initiative apparently stemmed from a July 29, 2021 White House statement:

Anyone who does not attest to being fully vaccinated will be required to wear a mask on the job no matter their geographic location, physically distance from all other employees and visitors, comply with a weekly or twice weekly screening testing requirement, and be subject to restrictions on official travel.

The Chief Moore document says all federal agencies are working to establish specific safety protocols for fully vaccinated individuals and those who are not fully vaccinated. These protocols will be consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) July 27, 2021 guidance and align with the revised model safety principles from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force.

The last link above is from, Safer Federal Workforce Task Force COVID-19 Workplace Safety: Agency Model Safety Principles, Issued July 29, 2021. Here is the section on travel:

Federal employees should adhere strictly to CDC guidelines before, during, and after travel.

For Federal employees who are fully vaccinated, there are no Government-wide restrictions on travel (although agency travel policies still apply).

For Federal employees who are not fully vaccinated or who decline to provide information about their vaccination status, official domestic travel should be limited to only necessary mission-critical trips. International travel should also be avoided, if at all possible, unless it is mission critical (e.g., military deployments, COVID-19 response deployments or activities, diplomats traveling, high-level international negotiations that cannot occur remotely). Heads of agencies should issue specific guidance to account for the particulars of their agency’s mission.

So after wading through all those documents, including a post from Chief Moore that triggered this journey of discovery, it at first appears that only “mission critical” travel will be allowed unless you are an international diplomat or a member of the military.

But all this is left up in the air, for now, since the letter says, instead of using clear text, the USFS is “moving forward … to establish specific safety protocols.”

Of course if the five federal agencies that fight wildland fire simply decree that firefighting is “mission critical”, end of discussion.

Meanwhile firefighting goes on, but with reduced numbers of available firefighters.

Examples of COVID outbreaks among wildland firefighters

From firefighters to an Area Command Team

firefighter Dixie Fire California
A firefighter and another person at Diamond Mtn. Rod on the Dixie Fire. Photo by Luanne Baumann. Posted August 11, 2021.

Over the last few days we ran across a number of examples of COVID outbreaks among wildland firefighters.

Dixie Fire

In an August 20 article, the Redding Record Searchlight, a Northern California newspaper, reported that CAL FIRE said there have been 14 positive cases at the Dixie Fire’s West Zone fire camp.

The positive cases include five from one crew, two from the same dozer, two from the same water tender and five “random cases,” the agency said. “These personnel were immediately released from the incident.”

Two of the cases led to hospitalizations, with one individual now in San Diego, who Cal Fire said is “doing well.” A second person, now in Redding, is “showing improvements,” the agency said.

The information below came from the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center.

Area Command, October 2020

In October of last year while working on the August Complex of fires, 9 of the 14 members of an Area Command Team that were working out of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest Supervisor’s Office in Redding tested positive. The first case was discovered after the team had been released and they were all in travel status followed by days off. That made it difficult to contact everyone. Some family members of individuals who tested positive also became infected. Given these unintended outcomes, a Facilitated Learning Analysis was initiated to develop lessons learned that could be shared with the wildland fire community.

The next four all occurred in California this year:

Hotshot crew, May

Four days after the crew began their season, one person tested positive. The crew Superintendent and Forest took immediate action to identify close contacts; 19 employees were identified. Of the 19, 7 were fully vaccinated (and returned to work immediately) and 12 were placed into quarantine (some at home and some in hotels).

Fuels module, May

On May 14th a fuels module member developed COVID-like symptoms; the person received a positive COVID test on May 16th. Contact tracing identified 10 close contacts (7 other fuels crew members and 3 additional employees who worked in the building). All of the close contacts were encouraged to get tested for COVID-19 and advised to quarantine (although 4 had been vaccinated, it was not used in the decision). One unvaccinated individual lived in barracks and moved to a hotel on the 16th. A second individual (the supervisor of the module) tested positive on May 17th.

Two additional cases were confirmed later that week (4 total in the cluster); none of the vaccinated employees tested positive or showed any symptoms. At the time of the review (June 2), one of the sick employees had returned to the office and others were teleworking. One of the four individuals was contacted by county public health, two were contacted by state public health, the fourth individual was never contacted by any public health department.

The four vaccinated employees did not get sick while four of the seven unvaccinated employees ultimately tested positive

Hotshot crew, July

An Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC) finished a 14-day assignment with 18 crewmembers and arrived home June 22, 2021 (the IHC had 2 additional crewmembers who returned early and were not exposed); no employees were aware of exposure or had symptoms. The IHC was off duty on June 23-24, 2021 for mandatory rest.

On June 24th a crewmember developed a fever and took the initiative to get a COVID test immediately; the test returned a positive result the same day. Contact tracing found that the 17 other crewmembers were close contacts within 48-hours prior to the onset of symptoms. All of the close contacts were other IHC crewmembers (during travel home) and no other personnel were identified.

Of the 18 crewmembers who returned from assignment on June 22nd, 3 were fully vaccinated and returned to work on June 25th. The remaining employees (15) have not returned to work; the sick employee was put into isolation and the remaining close contacts on the crew were told to self-quarantine for 14-days by unit leaders. The 2 crewmembers who returned early (1 vaccinated) were not impacted.

None of the vaccinated employees got sick while 6 of the unvaccinated employees have tested positive.

Engine crew plus others, July

On July 6, 2021, the local county public health contacted the Forest Service regarding an employee who had been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19. The employee had no symptoms and received negative test results (rapid test and PCR test). Public health advised the employee to quarantine for 10 days.

No other FS employees were involved in this exposure since they were considered a secondary contact because the employee was exposed outside of work.

The employee in quarantine impacted the availability of a fire engine during high fire danger, therefore an employee from a different station began working on the engine on July 6, 2021.

On July 7, 2021, the employee covering for the engine (from the other station) developed COVID-like symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19 on the same day.

This cluster involves 12 employees, with only 1 vaccinated and one who was in quarantine and not exposed. By July 12, 6 of the unvaccinated employees tested positive for COVID -19. All unvaccinated employees (10) were placed into quarantine. One employee chose to stay in a hotel and all others remained at their residences.

The vaccinated employee did not get sick while 6 of 11 unvaccinated employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Lessons to be learned?

While the Delta variant, which began spreading widely in the United States in July, changed how easily it is to become infected even among those who are vaccinated, it is still true that a vaccination greatly reduces a person’s chance of severe infection, hospitalization, and death.

Here are the final paragraphs from an excellent, detailed article published August 18, 2021 at Healthline:

Vaccines are highly effective even if they’re not perfect

The COVID-19 vaccines were developed to stop developing severe forms of the disease that can lead to hospitalization and death. In that aspect, they have been extremely successful even if the vaccines are not 100 percent effective.

While it is true that some partially and fully vaccinated people have developed COVID-19, breakthrough infections should not be a concern for most of the population. Doctors, however, do still recommend people exercise caution in areas with low vaccination rates and high transmission.

Vaccines also greatly reduce the likelihood of mild and symptomatic infections as well as prevent death and hospitalization.

Kullar noted that the Delta variant is both more contagious and transmissible, and those who are harboring the Delta variant can carry as much as a 1,200 times higher viral load than the original strain.

“Given all of this information, it is important for everyone not only to get fully vaccinated but also follow infection prevention measures, such as wearing a face mask in the public, physically distancing from others, and avoiding large crowds until we round the turn of this surge.”

President announces requirement for federal employees to be vaccinated, or tested regularly

New COVID rule also applies to federal contractors

Firefighters taking a break
Firefighters take a break on the Robertson Draw Fire on the Custer Gallatin National Forest in Montana, June 22, 2021. InciWeb photo.

Thursday afternoon President Biden announced that federal workers will need to be vaccinated for COVID or they will have to wear masks and be tested on a regular basis.

“Every federal government employee will be asked to attest to their vaccination status,” the President said in a live broadcast from the White House. “Anyone who does not attest or is not vaccinated will be required to mask no matter where they work, test one or two times a week to see if they’ve acquired COVID, socially distance, and generally will not be allowed to travel for work. Likewise, today, I’m directing my administration to take steps to apply similar standards to all federal [onsite] contractors. If you want to do business with the federal government, get your workers vaccinated.”

A fact sheet issued by the White House July 29, 2021 provided few more details:

Strengthening Safety Protocols for Federal Employees and Federal Contractors. Today, the President will announce that to help protect workers and their communities, every federal government employee and onsite contractor will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. Anyone who does not attest to being fully vaccinated will be required to wear a mask on the job no matter their geographic location, physically distance from all other employees and visitors, comply with a weekly or twice weekly screening testing requirement, and be subject to restrictions on official travel.

These rules should not only apply to federal workers and onsite contractors. President Biden is directing his team to take steps to apply similar standards to all federal contractors. The Administration will encourage employers across the private sector to follow this strong model.

We have asked the federal land management agencies how this requirement will be implemented among firefighters. When we hear back, we will update this article.

The pandemic is still occurring, but primarily among the unvaccinated. An Associated Press analysis of available government data from May showed that 98.9 percent of hospitalized COVID patients had not received the vaccine.

Already this year is reporting that nine people working on Oregon’s Bootleg Fire have tested positive. Since this type of data is very difficult to obtain, it is possible that nine people on one fire is just the tip of the iceberg. Today’s Situation Report shows 66 large un-contained fires staffed by 21,544 individuals.

In 2020 76 people assigned to Colorado’s Cameron Peak Fire tested positive for COVID. Two were hospitalized and 273 had to be quarantined while the fire was being suppressed.

U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Stanton Florea confirmed that 643 FS wildland fire personnel had tested positive for coronavirus as of January 19, 2021.

Of those, 569 had recovered at that time, Mr. Florea said, but 74 had not yet fully recovered or returned to work as of January 19. There have been no reported fatalities in the FS tied to coronavirus, he said.

NBC News reported August 29, 2020 that one BLM employee in Alaska died August 13 shortly after testing positive while on the job. Another was in critical condition at that time.

At least 222 Federal fire personnel had tested positive according to NBC:

  • U.S. Forest Service: 122
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs: 54
  • Bureau of Land Management: 45
  • Fish and Wildlife Service: 1
  • National Park Service: (would not disclose the number to NBC News)

At the end of the 2020 fire season the Department of the Interior refused to disclose how many fire personnel in their four land management agencies tested positive.

Some people may think they are in good shape and probably won’t get COVID, and if they do it will not be severe. But that is a very selfish attitude. They could get it, be non-symptomatic and spread it to their significant other, spouse, children, grandparents, work group, or anyone else they come in contact with.

There is a lot we do not know about the disease, especially the long term effects being reported by “long-haulers” or “long COVID”.  The CDC reports that “a recent study found that about 3 in 10 COVID-19 patients reported experiencing persistent symptoms for as long as 9 months after illness”.

A study in the UK found that people who had COVID performed worse on intelligence tests. From

“For their study, [lead researcher Adam] Hampshire and his team analyzed data from 81,337 participants who completed the intelligence test between January and December 2020. Of the entire sample, 12,689 individuals reported that they had experienced COVID-19, with varying degrees of respiratory severity.

“After controlling for factors such as age, sex, handedness, first language, education level, and other variables, the researchers found that those who had contracted COVID-19 tended to underperform on the intelligence test compared to those who had not contracted the virus. The greatest deficits were observed on tasks requiring reasoning, planning and problem solving, which is in line “with reports of long-COVID, where ‘brain fog,’ trouble concentrating, and difficulty finding the correct words are common,” the researchers said.

“Previous research has also found that a large proportion of COVID-19 survivors are affected by neuropsychiatric and cognitive complications.

“ ‘We need to be careful as it looks like the virus could be affecting our cognition. We do not fully understand how, why, or for how long, but we urgently need to find out. In the meantime, don’t take unnecessary risks and do get vaccinated,’ Hampshire told PsyPost.”

For more information, read the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center’s article, “To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate — A Personal Decision on the Fireline — Are You Willing to Roll the Dice?” It was written by Dr. Jennifer Symonds, the Fire and Aviation Management Medical Officer for the U.S. Forest Service.

The bottom line is, if you are hesitant to get vaccinated, don’t get your scientific advice from Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, or a TV show trying to generate ratings. Check out the advice given by scientists.