Fire danger remains high across Wisconsin

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Wisconsin is at high or very high fire risk again today.

Thanks to low humidity and high winds, firefighters were busy putting out wildfires across the state. And in response to the increasing danger, Gov. Tony Evers issued a executive order on Monday, declaring a state of emergency.

"With nearly the entire state experiencing high or very high fire risk, protecting Wisconsinites from the destructive dangers of wildfires is a top priority,” Gov. Evers said. “The ability of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to have all available resources ready to be quickly dispatched is a critical element in keeping fires small and achieving swift containment.”

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources noted that 250 wildfires have already been reported in Wisconsin so far this year, burning over 1,000 acres. That includes a wildfire in Menomonee Falls that burned nearly 450 acres of marshland on April 2, which has since been contained.

The DNR issued a high fire danger warning on Monday, reminding residents to remain on alert due to elevated fire weather conditions. In response to the heightened danger, the agency suspended burning permits last weekend in dozens of counties.

The Associated Press reported that the DNR suspended permits in 43 counties where it regulates burning, including most of the counties in the state’s northern third. Municipalities regulate burning in the remaining 29 counties. People in those counties should check with their local fire officials about whether permits remain valid, DNR Fire Suppression Specialist Catherine Koele said during a news conference.

The department also has positioned firefighters and equipment such as engines and tractors at ranger stations around Wisconsin. The department’s entire firefighting staff will work through the weekend and the agency was poised to request air support from the Wisconsin National Guard if needed, Fire Suppression Specialist Eric Martin said.

DNR officials fear the lingering lack of precipitation, temperatures in the 70s in places and strong winds could fuel more blazes. Fire officials anticipate a slightly longer than average fire season because of how early the snow melted around the state.

The problem has been exacerbated by home and landowners are eager to burn dried debris. Over the weekend, fire departments responded to several "controlled burns" that got out of control, threatening buildings and homes in rural areas.

DNR officials are urging people to avoid burning yard waste and to keep backyard bonfires and campfires small and contained. Koele said people cause 98% of wildfires in Wisconsin. Fire conditions likely won't subside until vegetation becomes lush and green this summer, she warned.

“Our fires are very small. We don't have those big, long-range fires you see out west, but we do have a lot of them," Koele said. “They can be prevented.”

Counties with VERY HIGH fire danger include Adams, Brown, Buffalo, Calumet, Chippewa, Clark, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Dodge, Door, Dunn, Eau Claire, Florence, Fond du Lac, Forest, Grant, Green, Green Lake, Iowa, Jackson, Jefferson, Juneau, Kenosha, Kewaunee, La Crosse, Lafayette, Langlade, Lincoln, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marinette, Marquette, Menominee, Milwaukee, Monroe, Oconto, Oneida, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Pepin, Pierce, Portage, Racine, Richland, Rock, Sauk, Shawano, Sheboygan, St. Croix, Taylor, Trempealeau, Vernon, Vilas, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha, Waupaca, Waushara, Winnebago and Wood.

The counties with HIGH fire danger include Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Polk, Price, Rusk, Sawyer and Washburn.