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April 23, 2013

MADISON -- Think your fire is out? State wildfire control officials would like to make sure you check again! Wildfire Prevention Week is April 21-27 and the theme is to encourage the public to double-check for hot coals left behind from debris piles, campfires, or ashes dumped from cleaning out woodstoves or fireplaces.

Yard clean-up is an annual tradition for many landowners this time of year and a common practice is to dispose of their leaves, brush, and pine needles by burning debris piles. Debris burning continues to be the number one cause of wildfires in Wisconsin.

"In 2012, we found that of the 345 reported debris fires, 13 percent of those were caused by individuals who obtained a proper permit, but then failed to extinguish their fire before leaving," says Catherine Koele, wildfire prevention specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "Initially, these were legal debris fires, but overnight the embers, rekindled, escaped and caused a wildfire on the following day."

Many responsible debris burners obtain proper permits, conduct their burn, but neglect to make certain their fire is out before leaving. Oftentimes, that fire still contains smoldering embers. Anyone responsible for failing to extinguish a fire before leaving or allowing a fire to escape and become a wildfire is subject to citations and liable for all suppression expenses and damages.

"Embers left behind from debris piles can remain hot for days, even weeks," says Koele. "These wildfires could have been prevented if people would take the time to make certain their fire is out."

Fire control officials recommend using plenty of water, stirring the ashes with a rake or shovel and repeating the steps until cold.

Along with fire control officials, DNR air quality and solid waste programs all encourage people to consider alternatives to burning debris, such as composting and mulching yard waste; however, if burning is the only option, a burning permit is required any time the ground is not completely snow-covered in DNR Protection areas. Permits are required so that people burn only legal materials under safe conditions.

It is illegal in Wisconsin to burn trash including plastic, household garbage or treated or painted wood - because of its environmental risk. It's also illegal in the state to burn recyclable materials such as glass, plastic, metal containers and clean paper.

Another common fire cause is related to ash dumping in the outdoors from cleaning out fireplaces or woodstoves. DNR fire control officials typically see a rise in improper ash disposal fires this time of year with cooler temperatures at night and many folks continuing to use wood heat devices to keep warm.

The "Think your fire is out?" campaign will run for two-years and includes radio and TV advertisements, flyers, display banners, restaurant placemats, newspaper ads, and other promotional materials. The outreach material will be distributed throughout the spring during Wisconsin's peak spring fire season.

For more information on today's fire danger or burning permit restrictions, visit enter keyword "fire."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Catherine Koele, Wildfire Prevention Specialist, 608-219-9075 (cell)

Last Revised: Tuesday, April 23, 2013

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