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Dangerous cocktail

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Superior, 54880
Superior Wisconsin 1226 Ogden Ave. Ste. 1 54880

Sunday lived up to its promise as fires sprang up throughout northern Wisconsin, including large blazes in Foxboro and the Chequamegon forest.

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"We knew yesterday was going to be a bad day firewise," said Mike Stewart, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. A cocktail of high temperatures, high winds and low humidity created the dangerous fire conditions.

State Department of Natural Resources crews and volunteer firefighters were called out to the Foxboro fire at about 2 p.m. Sunday. Dubbed the BN Fire, the blaze stretched along four and a half miles of Burlington Northern railroad tracks, according to Jay Gallagher, Lake Superior area forestry supervisor for the DNR. He said the likely cause of the fire was a train engine.

The fire burned an estimated 650 acres near County Road B and threatened nearly 30 structures.

"We never lost a structure," said Brian Laverdiere, chief of the Town of Superior Volunteer Fire Department. Fire burned all the way around one camper and got close to some homes, but firefighters from Superior, Oakland, Parkland, Amnicon and Summit prevailed.

In addition, at least a dozen DNR personnel with eight engines and five tractor plows helped subdue the fire. Air support was provided by a Minnesota CL-215 air tanker and helicopter, and three Minnesota DNR ground units also chipped in to help with the fire, Gallagher said.

"We all did a good job," Laverdiere said.

No one was evacuated, but County Road B was closed to traffic due to heavy smoke.

Jim Bishop, DNR spokesman, said the Pioneer Fire near Lake Namekagon burned an estimated 950 acres of the Chequamegon National Forest.

"They named it last night," said Colin Nowaczyk, a DNR forest technician stationed in Barnes who assisted with the fire late Sunday night and early this morning.

He said there were also a number of smaller fires near Drummond.

"Drummond, Cable, Namekagon and Granview were pretty busy fire departments yesterday," he said.

Gallagher said there were several smaller fires near Lyman Lake Sunday and an Iron County fire that burned 80 acres.

Bishop said a state estimate of 60 wildfires Sunday was low.

"There were 17 fires in the Woodruff area alone," he said.

A red flag warning was issued for the northern half of Wisconsin early Sunday. The warning is issued when conditions exist or are predicted for the spread of wildfires.

"What it does say is you could have explosive fire development," Stewart said.

The warning, which was coordinated ahead of time, allowed for a redistribution of DNR crews so they were available to beat down the numerous fires, Stewart said.

Currently in Douglas County, regular burning permits -- including burn barrels -- have been cancelled.

Bishop said a possible increase of burning restrictions over the week and for the weekend fishing opener were discussed in a conference call today.

A lot depends on whether a passing front drops rain today.

"This is the last chance of rain in the forecast for the next seven days," Bishop said.

Maria Lockwood covers public safety. E-mail mlockwood@superiortelegram.com or call (715) 395-5025.

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