Wildfire risks remain high, with more than 70 fires over weekend

By: - May 11, 2022 6:15 am

Wisconsin DNR fire crews fighting a wildfire in Menomonee Falls that burned nearly 450 acres of marshland. Photo credit: Wisconsin DNR (Marc Sass, DNR Cooperative Area Forest Ranger)

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is heightening concerns around the risk of wildfires across much of the state with warmer weather arriving this week. The department is warning residents to remain vigilant of fires and avoid burning. Over 40 counties are at “very high” fire danger, with another 12 counties having a “high fire danger” warning.

So far this year, the DNR has responded to 265 wildfires, which burned over 440 acres of land. Most of these fires were started by debris burning, which is the leading cause of wildfires. Just over the May 7-8 weekend, more than 70 wildfires occurred, making it the busiest weekend of the season so far.

Due to the risks, the DNR has suspended burning permits in many counties. The DNR is also anticipating power line fires and other burns from unintended sparks. Over the weekend, a high pressure weather system helped further dry, low humidity conditions. That, combined with high winds and warmer weather, created a much higher risk of fires.

Although southern portions of the state are blooming and greening nicely, much of northern and central Wisconsin remains very dry. Rain in the forecast is spotty, and the chances of rain falling in northern Wisconsin are minimal, the DNR noted in a press release. This, combined with wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour in some areas, only worsens the risk. The DNR is urging residents to avoid all burning until conditions improve. Burn permits will remain suspended in several counties. The department also advises operating  equipment like chainsaws, off road vehicles, and lawn mowers in the early morning to avoid sparks in peak burn hours. Securing dragging trailer chains, and delaying campfires until the evening hours are also highly recommended.

The agency encourages residents who  see a wildfire to call 911 as quickly as possible.

Counties where the risk of wildfires is “very high” include Adams, Ashland, Bayfield, Brown, Buffalo, Calumet, Chippewa, Clark, Door, Douglas, Dunn, Eau Claire, Florence, Fond du Lac, Forest, Green Lake, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Kewaunee, La Crosse, Langlade, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marinette, Marquette, Menominee, Monroe, Oconto, Outagamie, Pepin, Pierce, Portage, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Shawano, Sheboygan, St Croix, Trempealeau, Vilas, Waupaca, Waushara, Winnebago and Wood counties. Counties with a “high” risk of wildfires include Barron, Burnett, Columbia, Dodge, Lincoln, Oneida, Ozaukee, Polk, Sauk, Taylor, Washburn, and Washington counties.

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, 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. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.