Cook County gets $3 million federal grant for forest fire sprinklers

Cook County gets $3 million federal grant for forest fire sprinklers

13 November 2008

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USA — The Federal Emergency Management Agency has given Cook County $3 million to help more home, cabin and businesses owners install sprinkler systems that help protect against forest fires.

The FEMA money goes to the county’s “Pre-Disaster Mitigation Wildfire Retrofit Project’’ and will pay up to half the cost of installing or upgrading sprinkler systems.

The grant was announced Wednesday by U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., and will help pay up to half the cost of sprinkler systems.

The sprinkler systems are credited with saving dozens of buildings during the devastating 2007 Ham Lake fire that destroyed nearly 150 buildings in Minnesota and Ontario. Few if any buildings that had operating sprinkler systems were destroyed by the fire.

The systems run best on a propane motor to pump water out of lakes or streams. The sprinklers create a stream of water over cabins, homes and resorts — and the yards and trees around them — that raises humidity, slows fires and protects against burning embers.

When running on propane, they can pump water for at least 24 hours with no refilling needed, critical after evacuations are ordered.

Similar federal grants in 2000 and 2007 helped the county improve sprinkler systems and communications efforts, both of which are credited with preventing loss of life and injuries and saving homes during the Ham Lake fire.

In announcing the grant, Oberstar noted that sprinklers are credited with saving 100 structures from the Ham Lake fire.

Dan Bauman, chief of the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department, said he’s relieved that the FEMA grant was approved after more than a year of waiting.

“This is great news,’’ Bauman said of the grant. “We had incredible demand for help on this after Ham Lake.’’

The FEMA grants will be available, through the county, to property owners in all areas of Cook County. More than 800 property owners already have applied for county assistance anticipating the federal aid. Officials in St. Louis and Lake counties are considering a similar program.

About one-third of the 800 structures on the Gunflint Trail already have sprinklers, more than any other area of the state.

George Carlson, a Gunflint Trail resident who helped develop the sprinkler systems and now sells them, said the cost will range between $5,000 and $8,000 for an average cabin and more for large homes and lodges.

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