New Smokey Sign Puts Fire Danger In The Lights | News, Sports, Jobs

MNR Photo Wildland firefighters show off the new Smokey Bear electronic fire hazard panel in Escanaba. The sign was paid for and put in place through a cooperative effort. The firefighters are, from left to right, Paul Rogers of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Eric Ribitzke of the US Forest Service, Jay Osterberg of the DNR and Will Wiggins of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

ESCANABA – Gone are the days when Michigan Department of Natural Resources staff in Escanaba had to run out and manually flip the fire danger sign from “high” at “very high” or from “moderate” at “low” as conditions have changed.

The fire danger status on a flashy new electronic sign can be changed from a computer or smartphone, and the illuminated digital format gets the message across loud and clear.

“It’s a good visual reminder for the community and the public” said Jay Osterberg, fire supervisor for MNR’s Escanaba field unit.

The Escanaba sign is the last to be converted to electronic format in recent years. Others, including in St. Ignace, Grayling, Ironwood, and several other locations across the state have also been digitized.

The $ 37,000 cost of the Escanaba sign was paid for through joint grants from the Federal Office of Indian Affairs, the US Forest Service’s Forest Fire Risk Reduction Program, and the Michigan Interagency Wildfire Protection Association, which includes the DNR, BIA and USFS.

“All the agencies are coordinating to spread the fire safety message and try to fight against forest fires” said Will Wiggins, BIA fire prevention officer. The Escanaba region is home to the Hannahville Indian community and includes casinos and reservations.

“Spreading the message on the danger of fire benefits everyone” said Wiggins. “It’s best if we all have a unified message.”

The fire danger is rated at five levels: low, moderate, high, very high and extreme. Until recent rains, fire danger ratings were perched in the highest levels for weeks across much of the state.

It’s also important to maintain consistent fire danger messages, as state and federal government campgrounds were crowded in 2020 and 2021.

“There are a lot of people who come to recreate themselves, people who are not from the area and who do not understand the types of fuel and how quickly something can get out of control here”, said Eric Rebitzke, fire management officer for the Hiawatha and Ottawa National Forests in the Upper Peninsula.

Fire prevention officers recommend checking the fire danger before starting a campfire, working with electrical equipment, or operating ORVs off-road. Always obtain a permit before burning yard debris. In northern Michigan, they are available at; elsewhere in the state, check with local government or fire departments.

Meanwhile, save the date for the Smokey Bear Hot Air Balloon, which will visit Escanaba during the UP State Fair August 19-21 at DNR Pocket Park.

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