Fund aims to help wildfire victimsA new initiative linking local fire victims with the help they need is underway in Douglas and Bayfield counties.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
A new initiative linking local fire victims with the help they need is underway in Douglas and Bayfield counties.
The Northern Wisconsin Wildfire Fund aims to provide money, items and a helping hand to those affected by the Germann Road Fire. The May 14 fire, which was started by logging equipment, swept through the towns of Gordon, Barnes and Highland, burning more than 8,000 acres and destroying 47 buildings including 17 homes.
The fund was established three days later.
Douglas and Bayfield County health and human services departments, the American Red Cross and other resources have already helped residents in huge ways, said Chad Weber, a Drummond-area pastor helping coordinate the Wildfire Fund effort. Insurance, too, will play a big role in the process of rebuilding. But everything may not be covered.
“There’s always a gap,” Weber said. “That’s where we want to come into play, helping where there’s need.”
What began as a faith-based initiative has grown to encompass more than seven churches, town board members, volunteer firefighters, banks, business people and community members. They’ve offered items like food, clothing and furniture, and started to amass a list of volunteers to tackle projects from cleanup to construction. Money also is being accepted at State Bank locations in Drummond, Barnes and Cable. Checks should be made out to Northern WI Wildfire Fund. More than $2,000 has already been donated.
“Every penny’s going to the victims,” Weber said.
The group has an active Facebook page for sharing needs and stories. One story on the site is that of a child whose bike was destroyed by the fire. The child was upset about the loss of the bike when the bus driver picked him up. When he returned home, a brand new bike was waiting for him, thanks to the bus driver.
“It’s amazing, all the neighborly love,” Weber said. “The stories just go on and on.”
People have been calling the Wildfire Fund hotline asking to help. One 87-year-old woman called last week. She told Weber that she isn’t strong, but she can sweep. So she offered to help affected residents sweep up. Another woman called, saying she didn’t have much money but she and her three children wanted to help. They offered clothes, toys and Legos.
“They’re on the list,” Weber said. “That’s a beautiful thing, to see a child giving to another child.”
The hotline number is 715-413-0748; the Facebook page is Northern WI Wildfire Fund. People can call or send a message if they want to volunteer, have items to donate or are fire victims in need of help. Weber said the purpose of the hotline is to collect a list of volunteers and items so when a need arises there’s someone ready to fill it.
More information on the fund can be found on the Facebook site or on the Douglas and Bayfield county websites. The Douglas County website, http://www.douglascountywi.org also lists a myriad of resources for fire victims, from help lines and numbers for temporary housing assistance to information on removing smoke odor and using wells after a wildfire.
Logging equipment started fire
Wisconsin DNR law enforcement officials confirmed that the fire was caused by logging equipment. An operator from Ray Duerr Logging, LLC was harvesting timber with a Timberjack 840 feller/buncher and noticed smoke coming from below the cutting head. The timber was being harvested on industrial timber lands owned by Lyme St. Croix Forest Company LLC, which are managed by Steigerwaldt Land Services, Inc.
The logger made a concerted effort to extinguish the fire using a fire extinguisher located in the cab of the harvester and immediately called 911.
“The entire logging crew stayed on scene,” said Gary Bibow, DNR fire law enforcement specialist. “They have been extremely cooperative throughout this entire process.”
An investigation showed no negligence was involved and there was no intentional setting of fire to the land. The department recommended not pursuing criminal charges based on the investigation.