Pandemic Forces Changes To Wildfire Evacuation

Several of the large fires burning in the Bay Area have prompted evacuations.

If having to flee your home in a wildfire isn’t stressful enough, this fire season there is the added issue of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the Crosswalk Church in Napa there is a big, handwritten sign that greets evacuees fleeing the Hennessey Ridge Fire, describing the restrictions they will have to meet to enter. Evacuees will be required to wear masks and undergo a health screening and if you do not really need to be there, you will not be allowed inside.

"We need people to show us identification or address verification because we need to be so careful about who is allowed in," said Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon. "We want to make sure that it’s really only for those directly impacted by the order."

That is because in order to maintain social distancing, the county will not be able to pack people into evacuation centers the way they normally could. Thankfully, so far, only 20 people have had to evacuate in Napa County because the fire is burning in a remote area. But if the fire started in a more populated area the county would need many more evacuation centers than normal.

Sign at the Crosswalk Church evacuation center in Napa notifies evacuees of pandemic restrictions
Megan Goldsby/KCBS Radio

"We always have multiple sites but usually only plan on using one or two," said Dillon. But this year they may need to use them all. "It’s another expense in the sense that more equipment is needed, personal protective equipment, more staff is needed, temperature apparatus."

Meals will have to be individually packaged as opposed to a large buffet line.

The strict measures are necessary to prevent a wildfire from sparking a virus outbreak.

But Dillon said the county is ready.

"Equipped, prepared, we practice all the time for emergencies - although we haven’t had to practice, really, for the last three or four years," as the county has been faced with the real thing instead.