Even though San Diego County was spared massive wildfires in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic complicated the few fire evacuations that did occur and officials are taking steps now to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
One of the biggest challenges was trying to keep evacuees safe from the spread of COVID-19, which meant finding them hotel rooms rather than sheltering them in school gyms, community centers and other large indoor spaces that have been the source of disease outbreaks after fires in the past. When the Valley Fire — the region’s biggest blaze last year — erupted in East County, officials said disaster workers had to scramble to find enough hotel rooms to shelter some of the thousands of people forced to flee.
The use of hotels was a “completely new model, but ultimately, it worked well,” said Jeff Toney, San Diego County’s emergency services director. For emergency workers, he said, “COVID changed everything for us.”