Increased Fire Danger Due to COVID-19 Closures

The National Interagency Fire Center shared a report on July 1, 2020, indicating that many of the regions that camps are in will experience higher than normal fire danger over the next 3 months. This, combined with empty camp properties and facilities, may lead to increased fire danger for some camps. Here are some of the reasons why: 

  • Less Foot Travel: Less foot travel and activity on-site can mean less natural push back of grass and light brush. Without staff and campers hiking trails and running through the woods, areas of camp that are typically cleared just by simple foot traffic are not being cleared.
  • Fewer Eyes on Camp Property and Facilities: With less facility use of camp this summer, there was likely fewer maintenance requests submitted to your property management team. However, these smaller issues that are often reported can be signs of bigger issues in a camp’s infrastructure—and when they are not addressed, they may impact your fire prevention strategies. Additionally, this may mean that less eyes are on more remote areas of camp where trespassers or other conditions may spark a fire.
  • Missed or Delayed Routine Maintenance: Whether it’s lack of staff, funds, or both, camps are having to make very hard decisions about how to spend their resources. In some cases, this means delaying routine inspections or services, such as annual electrical inspections, chimney/flue cleaning or inspection, servicing of fire extinguishers or having brush/trees removed. This may mean that important fire mitigation efforts were missed.
Due to the factors noted above, it’s more important than ever to focus on fire prevention measures. Though some fire prevention efforts can be expensive, not all are. Consider how your camp team can approach the following suggestions, while also keeping staffing and financial restraints in mind:
Defensible Zones 
  • Understand your Zones: Familiarize yourself with your camp’s defensible zones and update your camp map to include those zones.
  • Walk Zone 1: Using a checklist, prioritize what can be done now based on your staffing and financial constraints. Some items that you may be able to address in Zone 1 are:
    • Make sure that fire roads (including egress and access to camp) are clear from obstruction
    • Ensure that roofs and gutters are cleared of debris, leaves, pine needles, tree limbs, etc.
    • Prune vegetation and check that all structures have a minimum of 15’ cleared space
    • Remove combustible debris (leaves, limbs, excess lumber, etc) from under structures
    • Properly store and label flammables and combustibles
    • Update utility maps and make sure they are accessible if needed
    • Remove dead, diseased or unhealthy trees and shrubs in Zone 1. If you are unable to remove them right away, tag them for removal as soon as finances allow.
  • Evaluate Zone 2: Zone 2 is the buffer between Zone 1 and 3. The main focus of Zone 2 is reducing fuel. Prioritize your plan of work to help achieve the goal of fuel reduction.
  • Invest in Zone 3: Zone 3 is the balance of your property. While large investments of removing trees may not be possible this summer due to cost, some other efforts that you may be able to achieve are:
    • Monitor/manage fire roads and access/egress to your camp and make sure these are free from obstruction
    • Provide adequate access for fire firefighters including trails throughout your camp
    • Inspect and tag trees/shrubs of concern to address at a later date if you are unable to remove them now.
 Community Partners 
  • Utilize Volunteers: Many camper families and alumni are looking for opportunities to get out to camp this summer. If you are able to leverage that interest within the parameters of COVID-19 protections, utilize volunteers to help address clearing trails or cutting back brush. (Do make sure that all volunteers sign a Volunteer Waiver.)
  • Inform Officials of Modified Programming or Usage: If your camp is being used differently to normal years—for example family camp, or at a reduced capacity—be sure to notify authorities so they can update any response plan.
  • Invite Firefighters to Train on Your Property: By opening your site to firefighters and first responders for training purposes, you are helping them to get familiar with your specific location and they will be better prepared to protect it. Consider extending the invitation to make your site the staging area in the event of a fire, as these are some of the first locations firefighters will protect.
  • Test Systems: Test all water systems and other resources that you may use to respond to a fire to make sure that they are working properly.
  • Annual Inspection: Invite local fire officials to your property to walk through, discuss your fire prevention plans and gain insight from the experts.
 Other Resources