Firefighters from Brule, Maple and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources tackled a string of 23 ditch fires along County Highway FF on Wednesday, June 19. No injuries were reported, but the multiple wildfires burned a total of 2.1 acres.

The blazes were sparked by a vehicle travelling down the road.

“It was an equipment start, either someone dragging something or a piece of equipment malfunctioning so it was throwing heat out right around the road there,” said Forester Ranger Zak Neitzel with the Wisconsin DNR.

Another string of ditch fires, also caused by equipment, was reported along State Highway 13 in the town of Lakeside on June 17.

“It was only two or three, but the same thing, right in the ditch, equipment starts, so this has been kind of an issue for us this year,” Neitzel said.

The number one cause of state wildfires is human carelessness, but equipment starts come in a close second. Nearly 20 percent of all wildfires in Wisconsin are caused by activities such as logging and farm operations; hot exhaust systems from vehicles; recreational vehicles such as ATVs or motorcycles operating without spark arresters; or even simple things like dragging chains from trailers.

A couple battles a fire in the ditch along County Road FF with car mats from their vehicle on Wednesday afternoon. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
A couple battles a fire in the ditch along County Road FF with car mats from their vehicle on Wednesday afternoon. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

The DNR launched a fire prevention campaign aimed at equipment starts last year: “Spark a Change, Not a Wildfire.” It’s intended to increase awareness of the fire dangers posed by equipment and promote proper use.

The recent fires could have done more damage. The peak wildfire season -- snow melt until the area greens up -- has passed.

“It’s dry, but it’s certainly not drought conditions,” Neitzel said. “And it’s lucky, because with that big string of fires, if this had been a couple weeks ago when those fields and things were still brown, it certainly could have been a bigger fire, a lot higher consequence.”