Jon Paul was leery entering his first wildfire camp of the year late last month to fight three lightning-caused fires scorching parts of a Northern California forest that hadn’t burned in 40 years.

The 54-year-old engine captain from southern Oregon knew from experience that these crowded, grimy camps can be breeding grounds for norovirus and a respiratory illness that firefighters call the “camp crud” in a normal year. He wondered what COVID-19 would do in the tent cities where hundreds of men and women eat, sleep, wash and spend their downtime between shifts.

Paul thought about his immunocompromised wife and his 84-year-old mother back home. Then he joined the approximately 1,300 people spread across the Modoc National Forest who would provide a major test for the COVID-prevention measures that had been developed for wildland firefighters.

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