Published: April 14, 2014 by the Northwest Region
Contact(s): Kevin Harter, DNR communication, 715-416-2230
By John Gozdzialski, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Northern Region Director
It's hard for many people to believe that wildfires can be a problem in spring. After all, in many areas there is still snow on the ground and we usually get a lot rain this time of year. What we need to keep in mind during this time of the year is the vegetation and the weather.
Most of the vegetation we see this time of year is dead and dry: last year's leaves, flowers, and grass. Dry plant material cannot hold moisture, which creates a wick primed for ignition. The warm, dry, breezy days that we hope for in spring are also the days most favorable for fires. High wildfire risk will remain until the danger of frost has passed and new green vegetation has fully emerged.
April 20-26 is "Wildfire Prevention Week" across Wisconsin and other Great Lakes states. This is a good time to remind everyone of the very real annual threat of wildfires.
The risk of a wildfire became a dramatic reality in Douglas County last May. A single spark in a forest ignited the Germann Road Fire - the largest wildfire in Wisconsin in 30 years. About 100 homes and seasonal cabins were in the path of the fire. After the fire was extinguished, a total of 23 homes and seasonal cabins along with another 80 outbuildings had been consumed.
An estimated 350 buildings survived the fire thanks to firefighter suppression efforts and utilization of "Firewise" practices.
"Firewise" qualities are often simple acts of maintenance. Keep areas around buildings and under decks free of leaves and pine needles, clean debris out of rain gutters and move firewood stacks to spots at least 30 feet away from buildings. Other "Firewise" practices take more time. For example, making sure that your driveway is wide enough for a fire engine to get to your home or removing evergreen trees and shrubs within a 30 foot zone around buildings.
Becoming "Firewise" is not difficult but does require a commitment. Being "Firewise" requires attention to your home's surroundings and what might start a wildfire or encourage the spread of one. Try this "Firewise" activity: take a walk around your home or seasonal cabin with an imaginary match in your hand. Any place where you would not feel comfortable tossing down a lit match and walking away is a place where you need to do some work.
The Department of Natural Resources is committed to bringing awareness to the threat of wildfire in Wisconsin. This year's fire prevention campaign is "Be Ember Aware." A four-minute video, featuring footage from the Germann Road Fire, along with a special web page and publications are available for view at dnr.wi.gov (keyword "ember"). We hope you will find the information useful.
There will also be a DNR chat on the topic of wildfires on April 24 from noon-1pm. Go to dnr.wi.gov (search "chat"). I encourage you to tune in and ask our wildfire experts questions. As always, should you have any questions on any other day, feel free to contact your local DNR service center, ranger station or Ben Garrett at 715-635-4088. We're here to help.
As our old friend in the forest, Smokey Bear says, "Only you can prevent wildfires."