Fort McCoy News May 22, 2015

Work improves fire breaks on Fort McCoy borders

STORY & PHOTO BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

Fire-break areas along several miles of the installation's South Post borders have been upgraded. The work was recently completed by a contractor, said Fort McCoy Forester James Kerkman from the Directorate of Public Works (DPW) Natural Resources Branch (NRB).

"This is the first contract where we've had work done in the boundary areas to improve the fire breaks," said Kerkman, who oversees the contract work. "These areas have had work done many years ago by troops training (at Fort McCoy), but it's time to make these areas better to improve our wildfire-prevention efforts."

Photo
John Whitney, senior project manager for Pugsley Services of Brighton, Ill., uses a small loader to complete work along a fire-break area on Fort McCoy's South Post.

DPW determined areas that were most in need of improvements. Pugsley Services of Brighton, Ill., completed the work, which began in fall 2014, by using heavy equipment and manpower to clear the fire breaks of trees and debris.

John Whitney, senior project manager at Pugsley Services, said trees that had grown up along the fire breaks were shredded using a forester-mulcher. "Once the trees were removed, we then seeded those areas to have vegetation return," he said.

Vegetation was planted in the fire breaks, which range in width from 40 to 60 feet, to prevent soil erosion, Kerkman said.

"We have to maintain these areas so we have an obvious fire break between Fort McCoy and private land," Kerkman said. "These areas let Soldiers and nearby landowners know where the border areas are, and it helps prevent the spread of wildfires that might come on post or try to go off post."

The fire breaks also serve as pathways for emergency vehicles in case of a wildfire. "These areas are wide and clear enough so firefighting vehicles can move along them to fight fires if needed," Kerkman said.

Whitney said some areas of terrain were difficult to work.

"Some of the slopes we worked on also were pretty steep, but our machines stayed on them, and we were able to get the work done," Whitney said.

The work on South Post was the beginning of a larger effort to cover all of Fort McCoy's 40-plus miles of fire breaks.

"This was a one-year contract to get the work started," Kerkman said. "Now we are working on another contract to complete more boundary work and annually maintain the North Post impact area and range fire breaks."

DPW's NRB Forestry Program actively manages wildfire prevention every year through the prescribed-burn program. To date, the NRB has coordinated the burning of 6,772 acres on post. Upgrading the fire breaks is another step in the fire-prevention effort.

"Anything we can do to protect Fort McCoy's natural resources from wildfires is very important to the safety and protection of the installation," Kerkman said.

For more information about wildfire-prevention efforts at Fort McCoy, call 608-388-2102.