GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Fire season may be over for Michigan but work never stops for Department of Natural Resources analyst Holly Toohey.
Every year, Michigan DNR agents are sent out to other states to help out with natural disasters in the area.
“Knowing where the fire’s at. Where it’s growing. How fast it’s spreading and being able to show that to the folks who are making the decisions on being able to suppress the fire,” explained Toohey.
As the Michigan agent spent two weeks out in northern California in August helping crews there fight the South Fork Complex fire, four wildfires that wreaked havoc on nearly 4,000 acres near Redding.
As a Geographic Information Systems analyst, Toohey, who has been with the DNR for six years, helps collect and disseminate fire pattern data to the boots on the ground.
“In this case for fires out west, it means showing how the fire is changing and putting that on hard copy maps that they can make decision and decide on how to suppress the fire moving forward,” Toohey said.
While her work out in California isn’t unique to the West Coast, the extent and degree of data collection from this large fire is on a larger scale than that of what she contends with back home.
“They had so much to teach me when it came to doing my job more efficiently. These are folks who have been working on fires for years now and they’ve gotten very quick and efficient with their mapping duties,” she said.
This year, 50 Michigan DNR fire staff were assigned to out-of-state assistance spanning from front-line workers to management and communication personnel. Michigan is fully reimbursed for the cost of sending its staff out of state, all while staffers like Toohey get a chance to enhance their skills.
“This year was a little less than previous years just because our fire season was so long. We had a much drier environment this year in Michigan and our fire season went for an extended amount of time in comparison to previous years,” she said.
Wildfires within the Mitten State have become more of a threat, according to the DNR, as Michigan experienced its driest spring this year in more than 30 years. In fact, the dry weather played a factor in the Wilderness Trail Fire near Grayling this past June. This time, it was Michigan’s turn to fly fire staff in from other states to help fight the flames.