How do crews prepare for wildfires in West Michigan?

9:22 PM, Jul 1, 2013   |    comments
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ALLEGAN, Mich. (WZZM) -- WZZM 13 is taking a closer look at wildfires in West Michigan after one of the deadliest in recent history killed 19 firefighters in Arizona. WZZM 13 wanted to find out if the same wildfire could happen locally and how would local firefighters respond.

At Allegan State game area there are 50,000 acres to feed a hungry wildfire. Paul Rogers, a fire officer with the Department of Natural Resources, makes it his job to kill the fire's appetite.
Rogers showed WZZM 13 how the DNR uses a fire plow to draw a containment line.

"We might make three or four of these to help us contain it," says Rogers. "As the fire is coming through, following the fuel, it hits the edge of that and cant go any further."

Fire officials say in order for the containment line to be effective, it has to cut below the roots of trees so that the soil is exposed. However, that strategy is much more difficult in the west. In places like Arizona where 19 firefighters died, the terrain doesn't cooperate with the equipment.

"A lot of times out west, where they're at it's extremely rocky," says Rogers. Instead, Rogers says firefighters out west use a tool called a Pulaski, to draw a containment line by hand. "You have to rake the soil off and that removes the vegetation from the top," says Rogers.

Rogers says Arizona and other western states have another disadvantage; Lack of water. "They're dealing with extreme drought conditions, very high temperatures," says Rogers. "Michigan, within six miles wherever you're at, there's always water available."

Experts say fighting wildfires is a completely different game than structure fires. For one, the fire suit in wildfires is much lighter.

"This helps keep us cool and allows us mobility," says Bryan Russell, a fire officer with the DNR.

Every wildfire firefighter has an escape plan, but winds can change within minutes, turning a situation deadly before there's time to move.

"Career structural firefighters think wildfire firefighters are crazy and wildfire firefighters think structural firefighters are crazy," says Russell.

Training simulations for wildfire firefighters are based on simulations from past fires. In Michigan, fire season usually ends in mid-June, but fire season in the west is more unpredictable.

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