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      Firefighters gear up for busy wildfire season

      The forestry skidder, which has been adapted for use in both prescribed burn and wildfire suppression operations, is being used for its first full fire season this year.

      Although Michigan's fire season is just getting started, the Department of Natural Resources' newest skidder is already getting a lot of time in the dirt.

      The forestry skidder, which has been adapted for use in both prescribed burn and wildfire suppression operations, is being used for its first full fire season this year.

      "The skidder's placement at the Baldwin Field Office is expected to assist DNR staff in reducing the size of wildfires," said Bruce Tower, fire manager of the Baldwin Field Office. "The skidder, when built into a firefighting vehicle, is the most effective means of building a fireline around a fire. If you can get a fireline built around a fire quickly, the fire size and damage are kept to a minimum and that is the goal in fire containment."

      Staff at the DNR's Forest Fire Experiment Station designed, manufactured and installed a fireline plow, a water turret and a 400-gallon water tank for the skidder. They also installed a hydraulic winch, upgraded the hydraulic system in order to operate the water pumping feature and installed a rearview camera that will be used to monitor the fireline.

      The equipment DNR fire officers and other trained staff use is developed to meet the specific needs that are unique to wildland fires. While it is housed in Baldwin, the skidder will be available for use anywhere throughout the state it is needed.

      The DNR also sends its equipment and operators to other states if the need arises and Michigan's fire danger is low.

      According to Gary Meese, forest fire officer at the Baldwin Field Office, the skidder and others like it have an expected lifecycle of at least 20 years.

      "One of my primary concerns in day-to-day operations is keeping equipment like this in tip-top shape so that it is ready to roll at a moment's notice," he said. "I am very excited to have this new addition to our fleet because it means more efficient wildfire containment and suppression."

      Most of Michigan's wildfires occur in the spring - April, May and June. So far this fire season, the DNR has responded to 34 wildfires which burned 293 acres statewide.

      National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day will take place Saturday, May 3.

      The DNR teams up with the wildfire safety experts from the National Fire Protection Association's Fire Adapted Community.

      National trends show wildfire risk and the size of many wildfires is growing. Due to increasing fire concerns, agencies are working to educate resdients and communities about what they can do to prepare before a wildfire strikes their area.

      Here are a few fire prevention tips:

      Pay attention to the fire danger in your area. Don't burn debris when conditions are dry or windy. Unsafe burning of leaves, brush and other debris is a main cause of wildfires. Before burning, make sure burn permits are being issued in your area.

      If camping or hunting, check local restrictions on campfires. Use an approved gas stove as an alternative for heating and cooking. If charcoal grills are used, dispose of the ashes/coals properly.

      Dispose of smoking materials properly by extinguishing them in an ashtray. Don't throw them out your window.

      Avoid parking and idling in dry grass. Catalytic converters can get hot enough to ignite the grass.

      Avoid setting hot chainsaws or other gas-powered equipment in dry grass, which could ignite after coming into contact with hot mufflers.

      ORV spark arrestors, which prevent hot particles of carbon and soot from escaping the vehicle and starting a forest fire, are mandatory.

      How to prepare your home or cabin for wildfires:

      Clear leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches and decks. This prevents embers from igniting your home.

      Keep your lawn hydrated and maintained. Dry grass and shrubs are fuel for wildfire. If it is brown, cut it down to reduce fire intensity.

      Remove fuel within 3-5 feet of your home's foundation and out buildings including garages and sheds. If it can catch fire, don't let it touch your house, deck or porch.

      Remove dead vegetation surrounding your home, within the 30- to 100-foot area.

      Wildfire can spread to tree tops. If you have large trees on your property, prune so the lowest branches are 6-10 feet high.

      Don't let debris and lawn cuttings linger. Chip or mulch these items quickly to reduce fuel for fire.

      When planting, choose slow-growing, carefully placed shrubs and trees so the area can be more easily maintained.

      Landscape with native and less-flammable plants. Your state forestry agency or county extension office can provide plant information.

      More than 800 communities in the U.S. have dramatically lowered their risk of wildfire damage by participating in the Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program.

      The DNR monitors weather conditions closely during wildfire season.

      "On high fire danger days, you might see DNR fire vehicles parked in strategic locations," said Ada Takacs, DNR fire prevention specialist. "Having our highly trained staff close to areas of concern is important to shorten fire response time. Experience has proven that rapid response time helps keep wildfires smaller."