Author: laurahayes

Wildfire prevention week – spark a change, not a wildfire

by Catherine Koele, wildfire prevention specialist, Wisconsin DNR

It’s no surprise that the number one cause of wildfires in Wisconsin is from human carelessness.  What is surprising is that the peak of fire season is in the spring, shortly after the snow-cover disappears and just before vegetation greens-up.  Many individuals this time of year are outdoors burning leaves, brush and pine needles from their annual yard clean-up.  All too often, this method of debris disposal can spark a wildfire.

Lawn mower on fire surrounded by burnt vegetation

This lawn mower caused a wildfire while operating on dry vegetation during elevated fire conditions. Proper maintenance could have prevented this fire.

The reality is, there are numerous other ways a wildfire can occur, such as campfires, fireworks and ashes from woodstoves.  A close second behind debris burning is equipment.  Nearly 20% of all wildfires in Wisconsin are caused by activities such as logging and farm operations, hot exhaust systems from vehicles, recreational vehicles, such as ATV’s or motorcycles, operating without spark arresters or even simple things like dragging chains from trailers.

Most of these fires can be prevented by doing routine maintenance on equipment to ensure machinery is clean from debris or carbon build-up and checking tire pressure and brakes to avoid metal-to-metal contact. Taking the time to look around before parking hot exhaust systems or pipes in dry, grassy areas can also make a difference.  And, getting an early start with any logging and farm operations during times of elevated fire danger.  This can greatly decrease your chances of starting a wildfire since temperatures are warmer, humidity decreases and winds are gustier in the afternoon which can lead to rapid fire spread. Continue reading “Wildfire prevention week – spark a change, not a wildfire”

Smokey Bear sighting in Oneida County

Smokey Bear Trail Cam PhotoA Smokey Bear sighting in Oneida County this week.   This highly recognizable symbol of fire prevention has finally awakened from hibernation, just in time for ‘Wildfire Prevention Week,’ April 15-21.   Spring is Wisconsin’s peak season for wildfires.  Warm, windy and dry conditions have resulted in over 160 wildfires in the southern half of the state this year, as the snow-melt is slowly progressing to the north.  Don’t worry. Smokey is very approachable, friendly and loves to give bear hugs.  Do your part to help Smokey by getting a free DNR burning permit and making sure those fires are out before you leave.  http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestFire/index.asp

The honored role of the emergency fire warden, yesterday and today

by: Catherine Koele, DNR wildfire prevention specialist

Rooted deep in Wisconsin’s forest fire control history, the Emergency Fire Warden (EFW) program is a long-standing partnership that has benefitted the State of Wisconsin since the turn of the century.  While the role and number of EFWs has changed significantly over time, evolving from detection and suppression duties to the current role of mainly issuing burning permits, a few of those iconic ‘fire warden’ signs continue to hang on fence posts in small, rural communities throughout Wisconsin.

Photo of an Emergency Fire Warden that was taken near Park Falls, WI in 1955

Historically, emergency fire wardens played an important role in preventing, detecting and suppressing wildfires. Photo taken in 1955 near Park Falls, WI.

Since 1885, Wisconsin’s emergency fire wardens have been on the front line of forest fire control, promoting fire prevention and helping to fight fires. Fire wardens were expected to post fire warnings, prohibit burning during dry months and report on fires.  Fire wardens were often the first to report forest fires to the local fire departments and ranger stations.  They also organized, hired and served on fire-fighting crews.

Men and women from all walks of life volunteered to become emergency fire wardens; farmers, shopkeepers, mechanics, teachers, tavern owners, loggers, paper mill employees, retired couples and many others.  In addition to fighting fires, they were asked to issue burning permits and keep track of who was burning and where, in case a fire was to get out of control. Continue reading “The honored role of the emergency fire warden, yesterday and today”

Gear Up for Fire Season

Fire season is just beginning. Each year an estimated 1,100 wildfires burn in DNR protection areas (about half the state, generally the more forested areas) and another estimated 2,500 wildfires burn in parts of the state where fire departments are the primary responders. Two-thirds of these fires occur in spring. There is a great deal of dry vegetation and fallen leaves and other debris present this time of year, which is quick to dry out. Accompanied by warmer weather, drops in humidity and gusty winds, wildfires can quickly ignite and spread. So far this year, 57 fires have occurred in DNR Protection Areas. Main fire causes have been debris burning and equipment. Fourteen homes and 12 outbuildings have been threatened by these fires and 3 outbuildings have been destroyed.

Continue reading “Gear Up for Fire Season”