Communication, cooperation and commitment mitigated storm damageOne year ago northwest Wisconsin was still reeling after a severe windstorm toppled trees in six counties, impacting some 250,000 acres. The blow down could have resulted in devastating fires, but with your help and inter-agency cooperation, we were able to successfully manage and mitigate potential wildfires.
By: By John Gozdzialski/Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources northern region director, Superior Telegram
One year ago northwest Wisconsin was still reeling after a severe windstorm toppled trees in six counties, impacting some 250,000 acres. The blow down could have resulted in devastating fires, but with your help and inter-agency cooperation, we were able to successfully manage and mitigate potential wildfires.
Following the July 1, 2011 wind storm, the Wisconsin National Guard and the state of Wisconsin deployed more than 60 soldiers from the 724th Engineer Battalion to use their military skills and equipment to clear 180 miles of highway right of ways tangled with branches, limbs and tree trunks. Their efforts were supported by 74 personnel from the St. Croix Correctional Center. Local governments collaborated to clear roadways of the fallen timber. Through the first week of August, timber was salvaged for beneficial use in Wisconsin’s forest industries from nearly 70,000 acres of private land and 19,000 acres of public land.
Aerial photography was used to map individual landowners impacted by the storm and show where high hazard fire areas were. The DNR planned our emergency response accordingly. The DNR also drafted a fire suppression plan, educated landowners, trained fire department personnel and worked with municipalities to help them complete urban forestry catastrophic storm grant applications.
The Department of Transportation evaluated state highways for structure and pavement concerns and identified preferred routes for temporary use in hauling heavy loads out of the blow down area to mills and railroad transfer sites, estimated potential local road damage and repair costs associated with timber removal and identified programs that could potentially be used to assist locals with costs related to damaged routes from hauling. The current cost is estimated at more than $14 million. The DOT also assisted in fire prevention, providing electronic message boards to alert seasonal residents entering Wisconsin about the high fire danger.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp traveled several times to the region to inspect the damage and review ongoing efforts to clear trees, meet with local officials, first responders, DNR Forestry and fire control staff and praise the ongoing cooperation and team work to prepare for and ultimately, with some timely rain, prevent forest fires.
Above average temperatures and below average precipitation increased the fire threat in the spring, which is traditionally the peak fire season. Insurance and prevention were added in the form of emergency burning restrictions and the addition of four privately owned and operated fire-fighting aircraft called a SEAT (single engine air tanker), which carry 800 gallons of fire retardant or water. During the period in which the restrictions were in effect, fire control staff reported 11 fires totaling 2.2 acres. Amazingly, this marked a 63 percent decrease in overall fires and a testament to public cooperation. Normally during the fire season an average of 30 fires burn about 75 acres.
How far we’ve come in the last year! This was a remarkable effort by the people of northwest Wisconsin, local and state elected officials and agencies, to come together. Your efforts and hard work have, and continue to clean up the damage done and reduce the fire threat.