Blow-down, mild winter present challenge for wildfire fightsForestry and emergency response teams are getting ready for what could be the most dangerous wildfire season northwestern Wisconsin has seen in years.
By: By Mike Simonson/Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
Forestry and emergency response teams are getting ready for what could be the most dangerous wildfire season northwestern Wisconsin has seen in years.
Dry, tall grass is standing up because of the lack of snow this winter. Mix that with a quarter million acres of downed timber in six counties from a severe windstorm last July, and Department of Natural Resources St. Croix Area Forestry Leader Steve Runstrom says conditions are perfect for devastating fires. So right now, no burning permits are being issued and they might impose a total burning ban.
“If it gets drier, we will implement emergency restrictions which would prohibit campfires, outdoor smoking, grilling, use of fireworks and things like that.”
Runstrom says they’re doubling the number of tanker airplanes to four at Solon Springs and Siren because it is strategically located adjacent to and in the blow-down area so they can quickly respond and aid us with dropping water and fire retardant in the hopes of keeping it small.
Runstrom says they’ve also worked it out so Minnesota firefighters will respond, if needed. He says they’ll also have to adjust their firefighting strategy. If a fire breaks out in the blow-down area, he says they may have to let some of it burn and back-off to places that are safer instead of directly attacking a fire.
Douglas County Emergency Management Director Keith Kesler says they’ve already had a few grassfires. That’s a scary start to an early spring.
“It looks like it’s going to be the worst year we’ve had in many, many years,” Kesler said. “Once it gets started in that blow-down, it’s going to be extremely difficult to fight. The way that timber is crisscrossed in there, even the heavy equipment is going to have a difficult time getting through there, the big bulldozers and stuff like that.”
The fire threat will subside once plants green-up, but that isn’t expected until late May. The largest blow-down area is in Burnett County, but also smaller parts of Douglas, Washburn, Polk, Bayfield and Ashland counties.