HARRISBURG, Pa., Feb. 26, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With the approach of spring and increased risk of forest and brush fires across the state, federal grants are now available to help Pennsylvania's rural communities better guard against the threat of fires in forested, undeveloped and unprotected areas. "Warming temperatures, sunny days and strong winds usher in wildfire dangers that emphasize the value of having well-trained and well-equipped local firefighting forces in rural areas," Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Richard Allan said. "These men and women deserve the very best training and equipment." In 2012, more than $540,000 was awarded to 141 volunteer fire companies serving rural areas and communities where forest and brush fires are common. The grant program, offered through DCNR and paid through federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, has awarded almost $10 million since it began in 1982. Local firefighting forces in rural areas or communities with fewer than 10,000 residents qualify for the aid, which is used for training and equipment purchases directly related to fighting brush and forest fires. Grant applications must be electronically submitted through DCNR's eGrant webpage by 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 23. To expedite application and decision-making processes, DCNR is accepting only online applications. Applicants should visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us and click on "Apply for Grants" for details. In reviewing applications, DCNR will place priority on those requests seeking funds for projects that include the purchase of wildfire suppression equipment and protective clothing. Grants also may be used for purchasing mobile or portable radios, installing dry hydrants, wildfire prevention and mitigation work, training wildfire fighters, or converting and maintaining federal excess vehicles. These vehicles are presented to the local departments exhibiting the greatest needs and those that commit to outfitting them for fire suppression.