Keep the Forest Green Campaign Spreads Wildfire Awareness

(OnFocus) When snow recedes and leaves behind dry, flammable grass, the chances of a fire getting out of control increases. According to the Wisconsin DNR, spring is the most common time for wildfires.

April marked the start of “Keep The Forest Green,” a wildfire awareness campaign in Wood County started by the DNR. Similar to winter’s “Keep the Wreath Green” campaign, a red tree is placed on a sign at local fire departments each time a wildfire occurs in the county.

Now in its 5th year, the pilot program aims to remind residents of safe burning practices.

“I think it’s been a very successful program in Wood County,” said Chief Josh Sabo, Richfield Rural Fire Department. “It’s been well-received and it’s a good educational tool to make people aware of the wildland fire danger and risks.”

Since wildfires aren’t typically seen in the city, rural fire departments typically respond first to a blaze.

“We have a brush truck that can go off-road to get to the fire and then we also respond with our Mudd-Ox track unit which is an off-road piece of equipment that can go anywhere,” said Sabo.

First out equipment for a wildland fire. Richfield Rural Fire Department photo.

Both vehicles come equipped with portable pumps and hand tools. Backpacks filled with water allow firefighters to get right up to the blaze and use a hand pump to spray out the fire.

“That’s probably one of our biggest tools when we have wildland fire unless it gets very large,” said Sabo. “It’s normally almost always extinguished by hand with the backpack and hand tools.”

The department also responds with a tender for its water supply and an engine in case any structures are threatened.

Last year the Richfield department responded to two wildfires within the township and an additional five in other communities through mutual aid, in which neighboring fire departments assist each other.

The frequency of wildfires varies depending on the type of spring. As what might be expected, wet springs see fewer instances of wildland fires, while a dry and windy spring sees more. In the county, the fewest number of fires since the program started was in 2014 with six fires, while in 2018 there were 18.

To understand the risks of burning, rural fire departments update Smokey the Bear signs with a daily reading of the burning conditions.

“If a fire danger is high or very high, burning really shouldn’t happen just because the fire conditions for wildland fires are high at those times,” said Sabo. “It’s always important to contact your local fire department or the DNR for regulations for open burning and watch the Smokey the Bear signs.”

The campaign will run until the end of May once the landscape becomes green again and the fire danger lessens. If successful, the program will be implemented statewide.