Lack of snow brings early fire seasonWithout a healthy dose of snow, the Northland may see an early fire season this year. Three forest fires ignited in Douglas County this week. On Sunday, fire burned through 8.5 acres of grassy land in South Superior as well as a 3-acre section in the town of Oakland.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Without a healthy dose of snow, the Northland may see an early fire season this year. Three forest fires ignited in Douglas County this week. On Sunday, fire burned through 8.5 acres of grassy land in South Superior as well as a 3-acre section in the town of Oakland.
“We’re about a month ahead of schedule here,” said Battalion Chief Steve Edwards, a 20-year veteran with the Superior Fire Department. “I can’t even remember fighting a grassfire in February.”
The fast-moving Superior fire took root in an area of tall, dry grass and was fueled by high winds. Superior firefighters responded to the blaze at 2:15 p.m. and requested mutual aid from the town of Superior Volunteer Fire Department and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Once they arrived, Edwards said, “we got it under control pretty quickly.”
At the same time, fire burned through more than 3 acres of grassy land in Oakland. Once it hit the wood line, according to DNR Forest Ranger Dale Rochon with the Pattison Park Ranger Station, it faded out. On Tuesday, another forest fire burned through 1.3 acres in Foxboro.
It’s an oddity to be fighting wildfires so early in the year, Rochon said. Fire season usually runs from the first week of April through May. But the warm weather and lack of snow calls for increased caution now. While the cause of the Superior fire has yet to be determined, both of the other forest fires were started by people burning debris.
Burning permits aren’t usually required during the winter months because snow is covering the ground. With the current unusual weather, Rochon said, that can change.
“It’s situation by situation, depending on the snow cover,” he said. If people don’t have complete snow cover where they plan to burn, they need a permit. Annual burning permits are available through the town fire warden or the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov. Permit holders can then check the website or dial the state hotline at (888) 947-2876 to check where and when burning is allowed.
Rochon said his biggest fire concern right now is people who dump ashes from wood stoves and fireplaces. If the area where the ash is being dumped isn’t completely snow covered, Rochon said, people should wet down and stir the ashes before dumping them to ensure no hot embers are left.
ATVs can pose a fire risk in grassy areas.
“We have a lot of taller grass that the snow hasn’t squashed down,” Rochon said. “Be aware of that.”
“Hot mufflers on that dry, dry grass could start fires,” Edwards said.
Rochon said ATV operators should also check their spark arresters. Edwards urged people to be cautious with campfires, grills and cigarettes.
“We encourage people if they’re going to be out in wooded areas to just be very careful with their burning materials,” he said.
Another local concern is downed trees in southern Douglas County. A July windstorm knocked down more than 100,000 acres of trees in Douglas, Burnett and Washburn counties. The bulk of the blow-down in Douglas County has been cleaned up, according to Jay Gallagher, Brule Area Forestry Supervisor for the DNR. But there is a possibility this spring that, if it gets dry enough, an emergency burning ban could go into effect due to the trees still on the ground. If such a ban was put in place, Gallagher said, it would affect the areas of Douglas County south of Highway M and west of Highway 53 to the Minnesota border.
The big factor in the equation is snow. March brings 1.65 inches of precipitation, on average, to the area, Rochon said. That could equal 16½ inches of snow, which would flatten the dry grass and push fire danger back.
“If we don’t get snow, I guess we’ll be starting fire season early,” Rochon said.