Northland wildfire fighters putting months of preparation to work during wildfire season

By KBJR News 1

April 21, 2014 Updated Apr 21, 2014 at 6:40 PM CDT

Iron Range, MN (NNNCOW.com) --- When Wisconsin's largest forest fire in 33 years swept through Douglas County in May, it burned 7,500 acres and destroyed nearly 50 structures.

Investigators determined a commercial logging company's equipment was to blame for sparking what started as a small blaze.

It's those extreme scenarios that wildfire fighters spend the winter months prepping their equipment for.

"Anything can happen," said Eveleth Area Fire Program Forester Nathan Eiting, standing by a freshly scorched field Monday. "It was looking like we were going to have a short fire season, but if we don't get timely rains it could drag out into summer."

Crews with the DNR and Eveleth Area fire program were pitting their best line of defense against a grass fire that quickly spread in the wind along the railroad tracks near Highway 7 on the Iron Range Monday.

These types of grass fires tend to pop up around railroad tracks pretty often during this time of season. If you think about it: dry conditions, wind, and sparks coming off this heavy machinery—it's the perfect ingredients.

That's why, for the DNR and other fire fighting crews, having the right tools for the terrain is a must.

One weapon in their arsenal is the all–terrain track vehicle known as the J-5, which lets them fight wildfires spreading over low, marshy land.

"With the tracks it gets better footage," said J-5 operator Megan Eiting, "we don't want to take the trucks out, and get them stuck."

The grass may be dry along these railroad tracks, but just underneath are acres of snow–soaked marshlands that make regular vehicle access all but impossible.

Eiting says they need to be ready to pass over that obstacle, and bring the bulk of the fire fighting straight to the source.

"It holds a hundred gallons, it's got a built–in tank," said Eiting, examining the J-5, "and then it's got a pump here, and then the hose nozzles, and there's a nozzle on the back."

The Wisconsin DNR is also reminding people that this week is Wildfire Prevention Week, with the theme of "be ember aware."

Spokespeople are calling on residents to check burned debris piles and campfires for any embers smoldering underneath.

Burning restrictions will continue to expand throughout the region as fire danger increases due to snow melt.

Billy Wagness
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