Firefighters battle forest fires in northern Wisconsin, U.P.Firefighters Thursday worked to contain as many as 91 forest fires in Wisconsin, including one that destroyed several structures and caused evacuations near Park Falls
By: By Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Superior Telegram
Firefighters Thursday worked to contain as many as 91 forest fires in Wisconsin, including one that destroyed several structures and caused evacuations near Park Falls.
Most of the fires were sparked earlier in the week when high winds downed power lines, according to Trent Marty, chief forest ranger for the Department of Natural Resources.
Fire danger remained high to extreme across much of the northern forest as high winds, hot temperatures and low relative humidity aided fire conditions.
"We've had a prolonged drought in parts of the state that has set the stage for more fires," said Marty.
At midweek, 78 fires were reported in the DNR fire protection area and 13 others were burning in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
The largest was a 112-acre fire near Blockhouse Lake east of Park Falls. The blaze destroyed seven structures -- three seasonal cabins, one other home and three outbuildings -- and caused nine people to be evacuated, according to Suzanne Flory of the U.S. Forest Service.
The Forest Service called in air support Wednesday to help fight the Blockhouse Lake fire. A helicopter staged at the Oneida County airport and a fixed-wing "Fire Boss" aircraft from Minnesota dumped 55,000 gallons of water on the fire.
As of Thursday evening, the Blockhouse fire was 75 percent contained, said Flory.
In addition to the nine evacuations, 24 other residents were notified to be ready to evacuate. The cause of the Blockhouse fire remains under investigation.
The other state fires range from two to 100 acres in size. The fires are being fought by Forest Service crews, DNR personnel, local fire departments and county emergency management personnel.
Efforts will continue over the next several days to monitor and suppress the fires, said Marty.
According to DNR statistics, 946 fires have burned 2,616 acres in Wisconsin this year. Marty said the number of fires is pretty typical but the acreage is higher than in a normal year.
"The weather is cause for concern," said Marty, noting a lack of precipitation in the near-term forecast for much of the state. "We'll likely be in for a busy weekend."
The DNR has 175 full-time initial attack firefighters; the Forest Service has about 150 firefighters active in the state this week, said Flory.
The Forest Service and DNR are urging people to exercise extreme caution to prevent forest fires over the Memorial Day weekend.
"People need to first make sure they can have a fire in their area," said Marty. "Then, if they have a fire, they need to make sure it is completely out before they leave."
The DNR has a burning permit hotline at (888) 947-2876. Burning restrictions and a fire danger map also are listed on the DNR's Web site at www.dnr.state.wi.us/forestry.
Wildfires also have been reported in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, with one in Marquette County destroying dozens of homes and other structures, leading to evacuations and road closures.
Crews also are battling a separate fire east of L'Anse in Baraga County.
Officials with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said Thursday there are no reports of injuries or deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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