Brief

Waushara County wildfire that covered 830 acres is part of a bigger picture

By: - July 12, 2023 9:00 am

Burning debris led to a wildfire in Waushara County that was contained Tuesday, July 11, after covering about 830 acres. (Wisconsin DNR photo)

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced that an 830-acre wildfire has been contained in Waushara County, southeast of Coloma. The fire claimed three primary structures and 17 secondary structures, and was caused by the burning of debris. Satellite and infrared technology were used to determine the size of the blaze.

This map shows the location of the Pallet Fire (center, shaded in light pink), which ranged over 83 acres in Waushara County before it was contained. (Wisconsin DNR)

The fire burned in pine and mixed hardwoods along Cumberland Avenue and north of Hwy 21. Gusty winds and drought conditions caused erratic behavior in the fire and it reportedly moved into the crowns of trees. Several spot fires were active ahead of the main blaze and were suppressed. As of Tuesday, fire authorities were still at work suppressing the scene and providing structure protection. Eight firefighters were treated for injuries and released. Alliant Energy is working to restore power in the area.

Drought conditions in Wisconsin continue to contribute to the volatile situations, though winds are expected to subside. Over 5 million Wisconsin residents are in areas of drought, up by 8.2% since last week according to Drought.Gov, a government website monitoring such conditions. The U.S. Drought Monitor states that in Wisconsin, over 92% of residents are living under drought conditions. Meanwhile, rainfall ranged from two to six inches in June. Rivers are dropping statewide. According to Drought.gov, May 4 was the driest day since 1895 in Wisconsin.

Wildfire activity has risen sharply this year as well. So far, 764 fires have burned 4,415 acres of DNR protection areas. Last year, there were 669 fires that burned 698 acres. A DNR spokesperson told Wisconsin Examiner that the average fire in Wisconsin over the last decade covers 1-2 acres. While the number of fires is comparable to prior years, the amount of acres burned has increased.

The wider amount of burn damage is likely due to the drought conditions, with the peak fire season traditionally ending in May. Over 98% of fires in Wisconsin are human-caused, according to the DNR, with a third being caused by debris burning.

Climate scientists have long warned that destructive and extreme weather events will become more common due to climate change. Carbon dioxide levels worldwide are now the highest that they’ve been in human history. Wisconsin recently was the site of some of the worst air quality on the planet, due to smoke from Canadian wildfires. Hundreds of fires have burned  across Canada, spurring thousands to evacuate.

This wildfire season is on track to be the worst in more than 30 years. Over 3,000 fires have been documented nationally since the beginning of 2023. At least 8.1 million hectares, or around 20 million acres, have been burned. Like elsewhere around the country, wildfire smoke clouding the air in Wisconsin led to concerns around respiratory distress among residents, as well as  heat domes trapping people in uncomfortable conditions.

Adrian Stocks, director of the DNR’s Bureau of Water Quality, told Wisconsin Examiner that run-off after heavy smoke days is another concern. “A larger concern for water quality impacts from wildfires would be increased run-off to lakes in the watershed due to loss of ground cover or ash and debris being transported to the water body during precipitation events,” Stocks said. “Of course, though, this impact is more localized to the burn areas.”

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.

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