Wood County Pilot Program Raises Awareness

Fire departments across Wood County are participating in a public awareness program to educate about wildfires in Wood County. Called “Keep the Forest Green,” the program is similar to December’s “Keep The Wreath Green” campaign, which focuses on fire awareness during the winter holidays.

Now in its third year, each of the thirteen departments in Wood County has a green tree on the outside of their building. Every time a wildfire occurs in Wood County, a red tree is placed on the signs. The program runs through the end of May.

“It gives us a chance to talk about fire safety up front, as opposed to coming up from behind and being reactive versus proactive,” said Marshfield Fire & Rescue Interim Chief Scott Owen.

Though wildfires are usually not something seen within city limits, the story is different in rural townships.

“Wildland fires can be very destructive and devastate areas very quickly if conditions are right because they can spread very fast,” said Josh Sabo, Deputy Chief of Richfield Fire Department, located south of Marshfield.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), 2016 saw more than 67,000 wildfires burn more than 5.5 million acres. The south led the nation with nearly 1.6 million acres burned. A total of 4,312 structures were destroyed by wildfires in 2016, including more than 3,000 homes and more than 70 commercial buildings. Tennessee accounted for the highest number of structures lost in one state in 2016 with more than 2,000 residences and 53 commercial structures destroyed; California was second with 754 residences and 12 commercial structures destroyed.

“There is the potential for wildfires to be an issue in the rural areas of Wood County,” said Sabo. “Spring is the busiest time of year for wildfires to occur because of the dead or dormant vegetation that is present from the time the snow melts until the grass and woods green up.”

Richfield Fire Department responds to wildfires similar to any other fire call, but the “first out” units are different.

“When we are responding to a wildfire, our brush truck and Mudd-Ox(UTV) are the first units out the door,” said Sabo. “Our tender (water truck) and engine follow as support vehicles. If the wildfire is threatening a structure (house, shed, etc.), our engine is positioned to protect that structure. We also rely on automatic mutual aid from neighboring departments on wildfire responses.”

Sabo encourages everyone to check with their local fire departments before they strike a match.

“Every area governs burning differently,” he said. “Some areas require a burning permit to be issued by the local fire department and other areas are controlled by the Department of Natural Resources.”

He added that people should also pay attention to the Smokey the Bear Fire Danger signs throughout the county that provide an idea of fire conditions.

“It is recommended that people try to find alternatives to burning debris and also make sure they are burning legal materials,” he added.

The “Keep The Forest Green” program is currently being operated in Wood County, with plans to expand throughout the state if successful.

“I think it’s a good program and I hope it continues,” said Owen.

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