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Wisconsin’s wildfire fighters prepare for the worst

By Dannika Lewis, dlewis@wisctv.com
Published On: Jul 02 2013 06:29:15 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 02 2013 08:07:49 PM CDT

R.J. Wickham Wautoma Forestry team leader

POYNETTE, Wis. -

Wisconsin wildfires might not run as rampant as the one that sparked earlier this week in Arizona. That doesn’t mean crews aren’t prepared for it.

The Department of Natural Resource’s Forestry Division trains first responders on safety protocol and specialized equipment every year.

When it comes to wildfires, Wautoma Forestry Team Leader R.J. Wickham said water isn’t always the best weapon.

“Most of our fires are what are called equipment fires, so we're looking at our specialize tractor-plows,” Wickham said.

That includes a customized tractor with fire-resistant curtains and a sprinkler system to protect the operator from extreme heat.

Wickham said anyone fighting a wildfire also has to carry a fire shelter. The flame-retardant tent is the last resort when flames are surrounding those first responders. It was the last line of defense for the fallen hot spot crew in Arizona. Nineteen firefighters died in the blaze.

“Anyone who saw that, your hearts went out to the family, the friends of all of those firefighters,” Wickham said.

Wickham said even though it’s been a cool, wet season, Wisconsin saw its largest wildfire in three decades. Flames that sparked in Douglas County in May burned 9,000 acres of land. No one was hurt.

“When you sign up for this career, this job,” Wickham said, “that's really what you're signing up for is you essentially have to be prepared at all times to run on a wildland fire.”

Wickham said the DNR learns lessons from any situation. Wisconsin crews have been deployed for mutual aid in the past, but Wickham did not know if anyone was in Arizona at this time.

“We'll implement anything we can to improve our safety requirements and training here in Wisconsin,” Wickham said.

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