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Tornado confirmed near Solon Springs; cleanup from Friday's storm continues

About 6,000 people remained without power Sunday, in the wake of a powerful storm system that produced at least one confirmed twister and raked much of Northwestern Wisconsin with damaging straight-line winds.

Storm damage
People work to clean up debris Saturday afternoon at a home off Ramel Road in Solon Springs. The mobile home had been moved off its foundation and many trees and items outside where uprooted and overturned in the storm on Friday evening. (Photo by Jed Carlson)

About 6,000 people remained without power Sunday, in the wake of a powerful storm system that produced at least one confirmed twister and raked much of Northwestern Wisconsin with damaging straight-line winds.

The National Weather Service in Duluth confirmed that a tornado touched down near Solon Springs Friday night.

According to a preliminary survey report, the most significant damage observed by the Weather Service survey team was EF2 on the 0-5 Enhanced Fujita scale, with peak winds estimated at 120 to 130 mph.

The tornado was on the ground for about 2.9 miles, cutting a 300-yard-wide swath that began 3.6 miles southwest of Solon Springs and ended 1.3 miles west of the same town. The tornado touched down at 7:51 p.m. and remained earthbound for about three minutes.

The Weather Service reported the tornado shifted a manufactured home off its foundation, rotated it about 30 degrees from its original orientation and then destroyed a wood-frame home along Ramel Road. Some debris from the second home was found 1/3 of a mile away.

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A tornado warning had been issued for southern Douglas County at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

The Weather Service reported that Friday's tornado is the first to hit Douglas County since a weak tornado briefly touched down near Maple on Aug. 23, 1998. It's the first strong tornado -- EF2 or higher -- in Douglas County since one touched down on Sept. 3, 1980, in the northern part of the county.

Damage at the Solon Springs airport was not associated with the tornado, the Weather Service said.

Human toll

The tornado itself claimed no lives, but the storm system is blamed for the death of an 11-year-old Hinckley girl, who was struck by a tree after a lightning strike, said Dawn Sargent, public information officer for the Burnett County Sheriff's Office.

The storm also may have contributed to the death of a 50- to 60-year-old Burnett County man who suffered a heart attack Friday night.

Sargent said the identities of the two deceased parties would not be released Sunday, pending notification of relatives.

An operator of an all-terrain vehicle was injured in the storm, as well. The driver was airlifted Friday to North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale, Minn., and was listed in serious condition Sunday.

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Despite earlier reports of canoeists missing after the storm, all parties have since been accounted for, according to a Burnett County Emergency Management report.

Juice slow to return

It may be several days before electrical service is returned to some storm-damaged areas, given the amount of power line down, said Keith Kesler, director of emergency management communications for Douglas County.

As the power outage drags on, the danger of spoiled food causing illness grows, warned Ken Zurian, an environmental health specialist for Douglas County.

He said refrigerated items can be safely stored on ice.

But frozen food may be compromised by a prolonged outage. Zurian said a half-full freezer can safely store food for up to 24 hours if left unopened without power. A full freezer can keep food good for 48 hours.

But if you didn't see power restored by Sunday evening, the only advisable course of safe action is to chuck the contents of your freezer.

In Grantsburg and Danbury, the American Red Cross set up mobile operations, delivering food and water to the public.

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Recovery efforts

Downed trees have reduced roads to a width of just one lane in parts of Douglas County. Kesler said the McGraw Lake area is particularly hard-hit. But he said streets in Gordon, Wascott and Solon Springs now are mostly open.

"People's spirits seem to be pretty good, considering all the damage," Kesler said. "It's amazing to see all the people out there -- neighbors helping neighbors."

But he said the sheer number of trees the storm knocked down in certain areas, such as around Dairyland, will make outside help mandatory.

"There are thousands of trees down. It looks like pickup sticks," he said. "It's so twisted up, I'll be amazed if they can harvest it. Someone might get some firewood out of it, I guess."

But Kesler said clearing the fallen timber is apt to be treacherous.

"When you cut bent and twisted wood like that, it can release a lot of energy, almost like a spring," he said. "I think we're definitely going to need some commercial help."

"A lot these areas will never look the same."

Determined campers

Justin McGuire, 23, of Poplar was camping with a group of friends at Douglas County's Mooney Dam Park, about 12 miles east of Gordon, when the storm struck Friday night. They had just set up their tents when a light rain began.

"All the sudden it hit, and it hit hard," McGuire said. "Those must have been 60- to 80-mile-per-hour winds. Three of our tents were blown into the woods, where they were ripped apart."

Two female members of the camping party were in one tent, pumping up an air mattress when the storm struck. McGuire, who weighs about 200 pounds, tried to keep their tent from becoming airborne as well, but he couldn't manage.

"It lifted me right off the ground, and I landed on my back," he said. "We had to rip a hole in the tent to get the girls out safely."

Three trees in the campsite were toppled by the blow, including one that landed across the hood of McGuire's pickup truck. The rain was interspersed with golf-ball-sized hailstones. But within 5 to 10 minutes, McGuire said the storm had passed.

McGuire and his friends retrieved their battered gear and headed for a family cabin in Lake Nebagamon. There, they regrouped. Not easily deterred, they bought new gear Saturday morning and returned to the same campsite to finish out the weekend.

Related Topics: DOUGLAS COUNTY
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