(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 6th year, the 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.
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.
In 2019, there were 12 wildfires in Wood County. So far in 2020, 8 red trees have replaced green ones on the sign, four fires caused by debris burning, one equipment related, and three with unknown causes.
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.”
Currently the DNR has suspended burning in forest fire protection areas. Places outside this area are governed locally, and some allow burning. The northern end of Wood County does not fall under DNR jurisdiction but many areas follow DNR recommendations.
With Safer at Home and the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, the Richfield Area Fire Department continues to serve its community.
“For the most part it is business as usual,” Sabo said. “When dealing with the public on scenes we are trying to social distance ourselves as much as we can and still provide the services we need to.”
The Keep the Forest Green campaign will run until the end of May once the landscape becomes green again and the fire danger lessens.