Average wildfire season predicted for early 2018

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LUZERNE — Michigan is facing an average fire outlook through early summer due to predictions of above-average precipitation and soil moisture, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Assistant Fire Management Officer Kevin Marino and Department of Natural Resources Fire Officer Jennifer Hansen presented the information to the Luzerne Volunteer Fire Department April 5.

The Forest Service gives this presentation annually to fire departments around the state. It is mainly used as a refresher training course touching on fire and fuel types, how to react, resource management and more.

Marino said as of mid-March there has been no sign of drought in the state.

“Earlier in the year drought started marching toward us,” Marino said. “But we got some late moisture that pushed it back west. No drought is predicted through June; however, soil around here is predominantly sand, so that could change quickly.”

During the presentation Marino said although the current outlook for Michigan forest fires is average, there is no reason to get complacent.

“Every three to five years we get a big fire,” Marino said. “We haven’t had a big one since 2012 or 2013. With that in mind, we are due for a big one. … Our jack pine is like gasoline. From May 1-15 with the jack pine doing what it does, we can see some excessive spread rates.”

With that in mind, Marino said being prepared for any situation is imperative for any fire department.

“We all like to say we’re going to drive our trucks or our ’dozers out,” he said. “But then you get there and you’re in a swamp. We’ve got to be able to prepare.”

As far as staffing is concerned, Marino said the federal service is in better shape this year. Hansen said the DNR is nearly fully staffed as well.

“We had numerous holes in our program last year,” Marino said. “This year, we filled those holes. We are fully staffed and prepared for fire season.”

“Most of our positions are full as far as the state goes,” Hansen said. “We have a lot of staff, but unfortunately it is a lot of young staff. We are not hurting for staff, we are hurting for experience.”

According to Hansen, the DNR has signed a mutual aid agreement

with the state police, allowing it to use a new helicopter the police purchased to provide air support in the form of water drops.

The Forest Service will also have two helicopters stationed in Northern Michigan this year, in Alpena. Marino said there will also be a patrol plane, but the plane will no longer be under contract next year. He said the Forest Service may extend that contract, but the decision has not yet been made.

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