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      Wildfire victims given a chance to rebuild

      "It's the worst thing Iâ??ve ever been through, the worst thing," said Jennifer Thomas.

      Thomasâ??s heartbreaking sentiment echoes the feelings of many property owners in the wake of the Duck Lake Wildfire.

      The Michigan Department of Natural Resources was looking to provide assistance for over a hundred property owners who turned out at McMillan Township Hall in Newberry. Also in attendance at the meeting were various agencies from the forestry industry to habitat restoration, offering to provide their resources.

      "If they got homes that have damages Iâ??m sure they're replacing those,â?? said Jeff Stampfly of the Michigan DNR. â??But then the next step will be trying to reestablish their yards, make sure they don't erode away, reestablish some grass cover, and longer term replacing trees that were in the yard."

      Thomas lost her family's 66-year-old cabin in the wildfire, and while she looks to rebuild, she's left wondering about the 15 acres of torched earth on her property.

      "The foresters came out and told us there's no hope or chance for any of our trees surviving,â?? Thomas said. â??So we're going to have to go and clear out the 15 acres, and this replanting program or this grant we could possibly qualify for is extremely helpful."

      Giving Thomas and other property owners hope is the Emergency Forest Restoration Program, offered by the United States Department of Agriculture. When it is officially approved, the USDA's farm agency will provide funding for eligible owners to help rebuild their forest land.

      "Itâ??s a cost share program that will pay up to 75 percent cost share to help them replant their acreage or restore their land prior to forest burn," said Kaye Vining of the USDA.

      The USDA says when Washington signs off on the implementation of the program in Luce county, property owners will have a short 30-day window to apply. Then the agency says it will work with each individual plan as expeditiously as possible.