April 21, 2015
MADISON -- On the heels of Wisconsin's early and active wildfire season that included the largest widespread red flag warning in decades, state fire control experts welcome Wildfire Prevention Week April 19-25 as a well-timed reminder for homeowners to delay burning when spring clearing their properties.
"Fire season is here and it came with a vengeance, quickly and widespread across the state," said Catherine Koele, wildfire prevention specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "Once that snow cover disappears and we see a short stretch of warm and windy days, our vegetation dries out and that puts us on high alert for wildfires."
Wildfire Prevention Week is a national annual observance when state and federal wildfire protection programs remind citizens of the dangers of wildfire and how to help prevent them.
Prevention was the message of the day on April 15 when 39 Wisconsin counties were under extreme fire danger and a red flag warning was implemented. This happened again on April 18, but limited to five central counties. All burning permits within areas of the state where DNR has primary fire control responsibility were suspended and the DNR asked the public to avoid introducing any fire in the outdoors due to the dangerous conditions.
"This was the largest widespread declaration of this type in decades," Koele said.
In addition, the DNR has been proactive and suspending DNR burning permits off and on in recent weeks, depending on the conditions.
"Burn permits are a proven fire prevention tool," Koele said. "They encourage the public to burn legal materials, such as leaves, brush and pine needles, when conditions are safe."
Koele says wildfire experts gather early to consider the day's risks statewide.
"Each morning, the weather forecast comes in and we assess the moisture levels of the fuels and vegetation on the ground, which is tied to recent rainfalls," Koele said. "This allows us to make decisions about the fire danger level and whether to allow the general public to burn vegetative yard waste with DNR permits."
Anytime fire is set outdoors, Koele said, it places lives, property and natural resources at risk. And, it's not the only option. The DNR recommends considering alternatives to burning or waiting until conditions improve.
Jolene Ackerman, DNR wildland-urban interface specialist said the theme for Wildfire Prevention Week focuses on ember awareness. Embers left behind from debris piles, campfires or hot coals from woodstoves or fireplaces can all rekindle and start a wildfire.
"Embers can remain hot for days, even weeks so it's important to make sure fires are completely out," Ackerman said.
The campaign also encourages the public to take the necessary steps to improve their home's chances of survival, without firefighter intervention, in the event of a wildfire.
"Maybe you don't burn, which is great," she says. "But, it's important to remember that a wildfire can happen as a result of a downed power line or sparks from a railroad, and if you live in a fire prone area, your home and property could be at risk."
In the unfortunate event a wildfire does occur, tiny embers carried by the wind can rain down on a home like an ember blizzard. They seem harmless, but embers are a real threat. Managing the area around the home plays a big role in the likelihood of it surviving a wildfire.
"With the nicer weather, more people are headed to their cabins nestled in the woods, getting outside and cleaning up around their properties and possibly burning those materials," Ackerman said.
Ackerman said taking deliberate steps to make a home or cabin "firewise" can sound like a daunting task, but that the key is to create defensible space around all the buildings on the property by limiting the amount of flammable vegetation, debris and man-made objects that can become 'fuel' for a wildfire.
"Focus on the little things, like cleaning debris from your roof and gutters and under decks, moving your firewood pile away from the house, raking the lawn and removing all dead vegetation. A simple way to approach the work is by prioritizing by season and focusing on the things that you can do in any given weekend."
People can find out if a home would survive a wildfire by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for keyword "ember" to take a homeowner self-assessment. For the most current fire danger and burning permit restrictions, enter keyword "fire."
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Catherine Koele, wildfire prevention specialist, 715-356-5211 x208 or 608-219-9075; Jolene Ackerman, wildland-urban interface specialist, 608-267-7677 or 608-575-9846