After Arizona tragedy, DNR wildfire team prepares for anything - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

After Arizona tragedy, DNR wildfire team prepares for anything and everything


POYNETTE (WKOW) -- Firefighters at more than 50 DNR fire control stations in Wisconsin are primarily responsible for fighting fires in one or two county areas, but they also have to be able to adapt to fight fires anywhere in the country, if needed.

Brooke Hushagen is a 12-year veteran of the DNR's forest service and has fought fires in Wisconsin and several other states.

"I've also been to Montana and Utah and Idaho.  Canada - Ontario, Canada," said Hushagen.

And there are big differences in how fires spread and are fought in each location.

"Most of our (Wisconsin) fires are what we call equipment fires," said R. J. Wickham, Forest Fire Team Leader at the Poynette station.

"We trace around the edge of the fire and contain the fire within that fire line," said Hushagen, pointing to a tractor plow that she specializes in using during wildfires.

Tractor plows also work well in southern states and the DNR has even pioneered a safety measure on them that many other states are now following.

"And if we get into a spot that we can't escape and we need to mitigate that, they have a shower system in the cab of the dozer that will put a water curtain down to protect the operator," said Hushagen.

"It is something that other states have put in practice, but not necessarily on every piece of equipment," added Wickham.  "But, every piece of equipment here in Wisconsin has that, that shower curtain system."

But in western wildfires, machinery and equipment can only help so much.

"In each state, there's a lot of different tactics employed and that's really based on the vegetation, the conditions, the topography," said Wickham.

"We're constantly updating our training and getting ourselves ready for that, but there is a lot of adaptability you have to get used to," said Hushagen.  "In the western states you get into even more volatile fuels, the chaparral and some of the sage brush and a lot of those different types of fuels."

Part of their safety training involves learning from disasters like the one in Arizona, where 19 firefighters died trying to contain a wildfire on Sunday.  They hope lessons from that tragedy can help save lives in the future.

"What we'll take from Arizona is, we'll learn what happened there as a case history and see how that plays into effect here," said Wickham.

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