Wyden Presses Federal Official On COVID-19 Safeguards As Wildfire Season Heats Up

Jun 9, 2020

Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has given a week’s notice to a federal forest official, to better explain how firefighters and rural communities will be safe from both COVID-19 and wildfires this season.

In this September 2019 photo, a hand crew monitors the fire they just lit on the Bureau of Land Management's Trout Springs Prescribed Fire in southwest Idaho.
Credit Neal Herbert / U.S. Department of the Interior

In a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing today, Wyden pressed John Phipps, Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry of the U.S. Forest Service, to outline a safety plan.

That led to this exchange, starting with Phipps explaining the challenges of setting up a “robust” mobile testing capacity:

Left: John Phipps, Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry of the U.S. Forest Service; Right: Ron Wyden, Oregon Democratic Senator
Credit Webcast, U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Phipps: “You know, we’re concerned that could easily overwhelm local health facilities, so we have to do something as the interagency more-"

Wyden: "You need to tell us what that ‘something’ is, within a week. To just hear about exploring and doing something, and maybe we’ll look at this…it’s just not acceptable to the people who give us an election certificate.”

Wyden says Oregon forestry contacts tell him that there’s no coordination between them and federal health and emergency programs on the issue. For now, social distancing and enhanced protocols have been announced for fire camps.

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