Saturday, November 21, 2020

DCNR: Weather, COVID Pandemic, Western U.S. Fires Made 2020 A Challenging Year In Wildfire Protection

DCNR told the
Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Council on November 18, the weather, COVID pandemic and wildfires in the western part of the country combined to make 2020 a challenging year, and it isn’t over.

Mike Kern, Chief of DCNR’s Division of Forest Fire Protection, told the Council, “2020's been a challenging year on the fire front. I think even without a pandemic it would have been challenging. But it's been even more so this year.”

Kern said Pennsylvania’s peak wildfire season is normally March and April and that was when the pandemic started to ramp up.

This year, he said, “We had a real active fire season in February and March, which was quite unusual. You have to go back into the early 1970s to find a month of February with as many fires as we had this year.” 

“I mainly would attribute that to just the lack of snow over the winter. Anytime vegetation is dormant in Pennsylvania, and it's dry enough, we can have wildfires.”

But then in April things turned wet and that kept the number of wildfires low.

“In another turn of events again, though, we had a dry summer and into the fall, which some of you may recall there's still some drought declarations in Pennsylvania and we're still a little bit behind on precipitation here going into the end of the year. 

“Then, just a few weeks ago, we had quite a bit of activity in November in our fall fire season.

“For the year total we've had about 1,300 wildfires reported burning 2,700 acres. And, a lot of that's been in November. 

In fact, Kern said, the largest wildfire of the year started on November 7 in Monroe County and burned about 800 acres on state game lands #221.

The COVID pandemic also put the Forest Fire Protection Program behind in training volunteers.

“Training's been significantly impacted. We have historically done a lot of wildfire training with volunteer fire departments and volunteer fire wardens, but it's been a real challenging year getting people together in a classroom,” said Kerns.

“In the past we've trained about 1,500 students and most of those have been volunteers. So, we're looking to ramp up some virtual opportunities and try to adapt some new technologies as we move into next spring and try to get our training back on track.”

Kern said staff and volunteers in the Program also provided direct support to the National Guard in helping to set up COVID testing sites.

“We ended up mobilizing about 75 DCNR personnel from March to June,” said Kern.  “we provided logistical and incident command support for several what they were calling ‘community based testing sites’ that were basically drive-through COVID testing.” 

Kern said a total of 180 personnel from Pennsylvania, so far, have responded to wildfires in other states-- five 20-person teams and 60 individuals in single position assignments along with two fire engines.

These staff and volunteers went to Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Wyoming.

He said this year most of the personnel had to drive to their assignments instead of fly due to COVID restrictions.

“We were fortunate, we had no direct exposures to COVID that I know of, despite having 180 people traveling around the country this summer. So, I think that was a real testament to the precautions and adaptations that were put in place,” said Kern.

DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn offered her thanks to the men and women in DCNR and the many volunteers that answer the call to help fight wildfires.

Click Here for a copy of Kern’s presentation.

For more information on wildfire prevention and response programs, visit DCNR’s Wildfire webpage

For more information, visit DCNR’s Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Council webpage.  Click Here to submit comments to or contact the Council.

(Photos: Photos taken by Pennsylvania wildfire fighters deployed in western states.)

Related Articles - Wildfires:

-- DCNR Wildfire Fighters Joining Crew Headed To Fight Wildfire In Wyoming

-- Increase In Human Caused Wildfires Sparks Concern For Allegheny National Forest

Related Article - Council:

-- COVID Pandemic Delayed DCNR’s Shale Gas Drilling Monitoring Efforts In State Forests 

Related Articles - DCNR:

-- Hundreds Of Thousands Oppose Cuts In Local Recreation, Conservation Project Funding 

-- $201,977,000 Diverted From Environment, Energy Funds To Balance Fy 2020-21 State Budget 

-- DCNR Requires Out-of-State Visitors To Have Negative COVID-19 Test Or Quarantine Before Visiting Parks

-- DCNR Finalizes ATV Trail Policy To Allow New Riding Opportunities On State Forest Lands 

-- Public Invited To Participate In Lower Delaware Wild & Scenic Recreation Capacity Study, Nov. 30 Town Hall

-- Reminder: WeConservePA Virtual 2021 Conference Workshop Proposals Due Dec. 14

-- Nov. 20 Take Five Fridays With Pam, PA Parks & Forests Foundation

[Posted: November 21, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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