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It may be true that only you can prevent wildfires, but two Cumberland County fire departments will be better equipped to put them out after receiving grants Thursday from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

State officials announced $617,809 in statewide volunteer fire assistance grants to help volunteer fire companies battle wildfires. The announcement came during a celebration of Smokey Bear’s 75th “birthday” at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. In Cumberland County, Penn Township Volunteer Fire Company received $9,035, and Cumberland Valley Hose Company received $1,900.

“Without the volunteer fire companies across Pennsylvania, DCNR couldn’t effectively fight wildfires,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said.

More than one-third of the calls to which Penn Township Volunteer Fire Company responds are wildfires or grass fires, according to company Fire Chief Chris Alleman. That’s a higher volume of calls than they receive for structure fires or crashes.

The grant money will help the company pay for a new radio system that is better for the forested areas of the township, as well as fire shelters for wildfire emergencies and a new hose, he said.

Nationwide, Smokey Bear’s 75th birthday comes at a time when wildfires are a growing concern. In recent years, Pennsylvania has been sending manpower to aid western states facing a spike in wildfires due to climate change, Dunn said.

Much has changed since the creation of Smokey Bear in 1944, but officials said his empowering advice remains true: humans can prevent most wildfires, at least in Pennsylvania. In fact, about 99 percent of wildfires in Pennsylvania are caused by humans, Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego said.

“We don’t have a lot of lightning fires like they do in the west, so that means that humans are often at the root of those fires. So it’s important to be able to spread the message and prevent the fires that we can,” Trego said.

According to Smokey Bear’s website, steps that can be taken to prevent wildfires include:

  • Don’t play with matches or lighters.
  • Watch your campfire and make sure it is fully extinguished before leaving it.
  • Use care when burning waste in your backyard, even where it’s legal.
  • Mow your lawn in the early morning and on days when it is not windy or extremely dry.
  • Check your tire pressure and replace worn brake pads to prevent sparks.

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Daniel Walmer covers public safety for The Sentinel. You can reach him by email at dwalmer@cumberlink.com or by phone at 717-218-0021.

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