Wildland Fire News

When Leaves Fall, Fire Danger Rises

When Leaves Fall, Fire Danger Rises
Fall is upon us.  The leaves are turning colors and falling from the trees. Pines, spruce, and other evergreens are in the midst of their seasonal needle drop. Plants and grasses are going dormant, leaving only crispy brown remnants of what was their green, flowering summer glory. As the leaves fall, the risk of wildfires rises.  Dry, windy conditions have resulted in nearly a dozen wildfires in the last week here in Wisconsin.

Wildfires can occur any time of the year when the ground is not snow covered. Wildfires are more likely to start when people burn leaves and brush, leave campfires unattended, dump wood ash outdoors, or operate vehicles or equipment near wildland vegetation. Wildfires are more likely to spread when there is an abundance of dead vegetation around to carry the flames.

In Wisconsin, the top causes of wildfires during the fall of the year are:
1. 27% Equipment (logging or farm machinery, vehicle exhaust or equipment sparks)
2. 25% Debris burning (burning brush, leaves, or trash in burn barrels or on the ground)
3. 9% Improper ash disposal (dumping wood ash from fireplaces, wood stoves, etc. outdoors)
4. 6% each – power lines and incendiary
5. 5% campfires

Sweeping leaves off the deck

Keeping leaves swept off the deck reduces the amount of burnable wildland “fuel” next to your home or cabin.

Taking precautions anytime you use fire outdoors is your key to preventing wildfires and paying a hefty suppression bill should you start one. If you use a woodstove or fireplace for heating your home, either empty the ashes into a metal container with a tight-fitting lid or dump the ashes onto bare soil then drown the ash with water and stir until you’re sure no hot embers remain. The same goes for campfires, burn barrels and burned leaf and brush piles – before you leave the area, drown the ashes, stir, and keep adding water until all smoke is gone.

There are simple things property owners can do to protect their home or cabin from wildfire this fall and next spring when wildfire potential is at its greatest. Your “home ignition zone” is your home and its surroundings out to at least 100 feet (up to 200 feet if your home is surrounded by pine trees). Research has shown that the characteristics of buildings and their immediate surroundings determine the risk of them igniting during a wildfire.

Picking up brush in the fall

Fall is a great time of year to gather fallen branches. Take the brush to a community collection site or create small piles for wildlife habitat.

What can you do?
 Rake up or mow leaves and pine needles
 Remove dead plant material from gardens
 Remove fallen leaves and needles from rain gutters, off the roof, under decks, in window wells and any other place around the home where this debris collects
 Prune evergreen tree branches up and away from the ground
 Compost leaves and garden clippings instead of burning
Keep aware of the fire danger year-round by bookmarking the DNR’s fire Web page: dnr.wi.gov, search “fire”.

High to Very High Fire Danger Continues During the Weekend

Gusty winds, very low humidity, and little-to-no precipitation lead to a weekend of critical fire weather conditions. The threat is predicted to continue into early next week with elevated fire danger across the state.Very High Smokey Fire Danger Sign

To help us keep Wisconsinites safe, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources continues to request that the public avoid outdoor burning, including limiting the use of campfires and off-road vehicles and to avoid disposing hot ashes from woodstoves in grass or wooded areas.

Fire control officials are concerned that the cooler temperatures and slightly lesser winds will cause the public to become complacent as Wisconsin enters the peak of wildfire season.  The main factor going into the weekend is the very low humidity levels (~15-20%), coupled with tinder dry vegetation. Fires under these circumstances can start easily and spread quickly.

The greatest chance of precipitation will occur on Saturday evening, but will be confined to southern Wisconsin. Winds will be out of the north and northwest for the duration of this timeframe. Fuel conditions such as trees, shrubs and grasses are very dry. Please continue to take extra precautions as a dry stretch of weather remains.

The northern half of the state is entering a critical time for catastrophic fire, especially in sandy soil and pine areas. Fires in these locations are starting to see increased fire behavior, resulting in fire moving from the surface to the crowns of the trees, making fire suppression more challenging. The greening of vegetation is progressing in the southern part of the state which is lessening the fire risk.

Burning remains suspended with DNR-issued burning permits for debris piles, barrels and grass or wooded areas. We are also asking the public again to be especially careful with any activities that could potentially lead to a wildland fire such as  smoking, chainsaws, dragging trailer chains, off-road vehicles or other small engines have the potential to throw sparks. Use extreme caution until the fire weather improves.

The DNR will be on high alert across the entire state this weekend, pre-positioning equipment for rapid response. The DNR has four contract tanker planes and access to the Wisconsin Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopters with bucket capability.

Continue to monitor the current situation by searching the DNR website using keyword “fire.” 

Fire Season in Full Swing as Cottonville Fire Anniversary Nears

Crown Fire during the Cottonville FireWarm, dry weather predicted for the next few days will increase fire danger across the state. So far this year 225 fires have burned 442 acres in DNR protection areas (approximately half the state); 7 buildings have been destroyed and another 120 homes and other buildings have been threatened but saved with firefighter assistance.  Debris burning has been the most common cause (42 percent of all fires) even as burning permits have been suspended. Equipment has been the second most common cause (23 percent of all fires). Other minor causes include power line, railroads, campfires, and ash disposal. As the vegetation dries out on the days we don’t receive rain, expect fire danger to increase, particularly in areas where standing dead grass and other dry vegetation remains.

Wildland FIrefighter, Scott Lancaster, looks at the burnt woods after the Cottonville Fire.

May 5th will be the 15th anniversary of the Cottonville Fire, which burned 3,410 acres in Adams County. The fire burned a swath of forest land and residential property 1.5 miles wide and 7 miles long; 90 buildings were destroyed, including 9 year-round homes, 21 seasonal homes, and 60 outbuildings. The fire was started by a person who failed to follow burning permit restrictions.

Stay aware of the fire danger in spring by checking our fire danger webpage at dnr.wi.gov (search ‘fire danger’). Put off any outdoor debris burning until burning permit suspensions have been lifted – compost or haul the material to a community collection site instead.

A house chimney remains after the Cottonville Fire destroyed the rest of the home.

A chimney remains after the Cottonville Fire destroys the rest of the home.

Firewise Tip: Homeowners in high risk areas are encouraged to make weekly checks around your home for windblown leaves and needles on your roof, around your foundation, and under decks and elevated porches; keep these areas clean. The debris that collects in these places could be easily ignited by flying embers produced during a wildfire.

 

Wildfire Prevention Week

It’s Wildfire Prevention Week, and we’re here to remind you that spring in Wisconsin is fire season!

Very High Fire DangerIn the last week, there were nearly 50 wildfires across the state. Strong, gusty winds, low humidity and dry conditions mean that fire danger throughout Wisconsin remains Very High today and tomorrow (4/20-4/21). Although rain is in the forecast, grasses and other vegetation can dry out very quickly allowing fires to escape and grow rapidly.

Wildfires pose a serious threat to public safety, property and our natural resources.  Over 98% of all wildfires in Wisconsin are caused by people.  Debris burning is the No. 1 cause of wildfires in our state. If danger is elevated, high or very high, avoid burning of any kind, including campfires. Be aware of sneaky causes of wildfires – like sparks or hot exhausts systems from logging, farming equipment and off-road recreational vehicles.

On April 18, 2020 a 234-acre wildfire occurred in Juneau County near Necedah.  The wildfire burned on private property and on the Necedah Wildlife Refuge. The wildfire was caused by someone debris burning in a campfire ring. Five structures were threatened but were saved.  Residents needed to be evacuated but were allowed to return home late that afternoon.  Fire Danger was Very high.

DNR burning permits continue to be suspended in Wisconsin.  All burning of debris in barrels, burning of debris piles on the ground, grass or wooded areas, in DNR protection areas, is prohibited at this time

Remember, wildfires have many causes.  Don’t be one of them!

Stay up-to-date on the fire danger and check for current wildfire activity at dnr.wi.gov, search “fire”  https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestFire/

Elevated Wildfire Risk: Firefighters ask for public’s help by not burning

Thirty-five wildfires burned in Wisconsin over the last week and elevated fire danger expected this weekend over most of the state (4/17-4/19).  A good reminder that, we work for you— so, please avoid burning for us!

Wildland Firefighters go to work for you. Please avoid bruning for them.

Firefighters need your help, as we enter the peak of Wisconsin’s wildfire season. Responding to a wildfire increases the risk of COVID-19 exposure through crowding of resources and geographic travel of emergency responders and firefighters.  Many DNR firefighters and fire departments are at home working or supporting loved ones. These challenges may reduce the availability of firefighters to operate fire suppression equipment and hinder emergency response time, resulting in rapid fire growth.  In addition, smoke from wildfires or debris burning worsens coronavirus risk, putting firefighters and the public in extra danger.

In DNR protection areas, burning permits for debris burning on the ground or in burn barrels are suspended until further notice.  If the ground is completely snow-covered and will remain so for the duration of the burn, a DNR burn permit is NOT required.  Therefore, you can burn at any time.  After the snow melts, the burn permit suspensions will again be in effect. Small campfires for warming or cooking purposes are allowed, but discouraged at this time.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.  And, remember to keep an eye on the changing fire danger in the coming weeks: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestFire/restrictions.html

DNR Annual Burning Permits are Suspended

In order to protect the health and safety of our employees, partners and the public, we are taking proactive measures by suspending all DNR burning permits until further notice. All burning of debris in barrels, piles on the ground and grass or wooded areas with annual burning permits in DNR protection areas is prohibited.  DNR burn permits are not required if the ground is completely snow-covered. Campfires for warming and cooking are okay, though strongly discouraged.

WI DNR Burning Permits SuspendedSpring in Wisconsin has the highest fire risk and debris burning is the #1 cause. Eliminating ignition sources on the landscape reduces wildfire risk, smoke for vulnerable populations and person-to-person contact. Being on the front line, emergency responders and firefighters have an increased need to take pandemic precautions, so they remain available to continue to protect the public from wildfires and reduce the spread of COVID-19. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

 

What does it mean for YOU when we say DNR burning permits are suspended?

By state statute, DNR fire restrictions only cover parts of the state. In others, local fire departments are responsible. When the DNR suspends burning permits, they are only suspended for the areas we cover.

If you plan to burn in a location outside of the DNR’s fire protection area, it is your responsibility to check with you local fire department to see if there are any restrictions. Many communities outside of DNR protection areas are also prohibiting the burning of debris at this time.
For the current fire danger and fire restrictions: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestFire/restrictions.html

DNR Forest FIre Protection Map

Rake in the benefits by composting instead of burning leaves

Smokey in a pile of leaves asking you to compost instead of burning your leaves.That swish and crunch of autumn leaves underfoot is the sound of opportunity as home composting grows in popularity around the state. By composting and mulching fallen leaves, Wisconsin residents are improving the state’s air quality, reducing wildfires, and giving their communities an economic boost.

Wisconsin generates about 500,000 tons of compostable waste materials, like yard clippings, leaves, branches and food scraps, each year. As composting becomes easier and more popular, these materials are kept out of landfills and reused to make valuable garden products. Composting leaves also reduces burning in fall and less burning means healthier and more beautiful air all year long, and less chance of a spark starting a wildfire.

Using leaves for mulch and compost can save individuals money on fertilizer and save municipalities money on yard waste collection and relieves communities of the hazards of burning. Because of these economic and environmental benefits, the DNR continues to work with nonprofits, local governments and businesses to facilitate the growth and expansion of composting operations in Wisconsin. Continue reading “Rake in the benefits by composting instead of burning leaves”

Happy 75th Birthday Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear, Cheers to 75 Years of Preventing Wildfires

Smokey Bear celebrates his 75th birthday.“With a Ranger’s hat and shovel and a pair of dungarees, you will find him in the forest always sniffin’ at the breeze…” – If this jingle sounds familiar, then one might know we are talking about the living symbol of fire prevention and our beloved friend, Smokey Bear!

With the longest-running public service campaign in U.S. history under his belt, Smokey has taught millions of Americans about the role in preventing wildfires since 1944.  Seventy-five years later, Smokey celebrates a milestone birthday.

To support Wisconsin’s fire prevention efforts, Governor Tony Evers proclaimed August 9th, 2019 as ‘Smokey Bear’s 75th Birthday’ through a signed Office of the Governor Proclamation to honor and observe this historic event, recognizing Smokey’s contribution to the education, health and safety for the past 75 years of Wisconsin’s citizens.

“As far as recognition goes, Smokey Bear ranks right up there behind Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse,” says Catherine Koele, Department of Natural Resource wildfire prevention specialist. “Many of us remember Smokey from our childhoods.  We’d see him in parades, on posters, in magazines or occasionally in TV commercials.  If we were lucky enough, maybe he’d stop by the classroom and teach us about fire safety.”

Take a peek at the History of Smokey Bear—a timeline of important events over the last 75 years!

Smokey gives back

Throughout Smokey’s 75th birthday year, Smokey himself will be giving back to local communities in Wisconsin by celebrating somebody else’s birthday.  The DNR is partnering with the non-profit organization Box of Balloons to support fire prevention and the mission to make a child’s birthday happy, celebrated and memorable.

Coordinated by eleven chapters across the state, Box of Balloons provides birthday boxes to children below poverty.  This year, Box of Balloons will be highlighting outdoor recreation and Smokey Bear themed birthday boxes for Pre-Kindergarten through 2nd Grade.  Each box and birthday celebration will include a surprise visit by Smokey Bear.  DNR forestry staff, acting as Smokey, will also provide fire prevention activities to educate and entertain the children attending each party.Celebrate Smokey Bear's 75th Birthday

This unique partnership will help both organizations expand into rural communities in hopes of getting Smokey’s image in front of children while also helping them feel special and celebrated on their birthdays. To learn more about the mission or support the efforts provided by Box of Balloons, visit boxofballoons.org.

Celebrate with Smokey!
Swing by the Wisconsin State Fair August 1-11 and visit Smokey at Exploratory Park.  On August 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the DNR will host a special birthday party. Smokey will be making appearances at several of our state parks and forests in the coming weeks.  To find out where, visit the DNR’s event calendar at dnr.wi.gov, keyword “get outdoors”  For more information on Smokey and his birthday, visit smokeybear.com.

Celebrate Smokey’s 75th birthday — take Smokey’s Pledge, share his message, consider alternatives to burning or encourage friends and family to be more careful with fire.  Doing your part will help ensure Wisconsin’s most treasured landscapes – and the people and wildlife who call them home – are safe from devastating, unplanned and unwanted fires.  Cheers to another 75 years, Smokey Bear!

Watch Smokey show off his dancing skills on the steps of the Capitol in a F.I.R.E video with Wisconsin firefighters as they sing happy birthday to the YMCA tune from the Village People.

Is my campfire really a campfire?

The first step in campfire safety is to understand the difference between a campfire and a fire to dispose of debris. Campfires, solely for warming or cooking purposes, are smaller in size and comprised of clean and dry wood, contained within a designated fire ring or surrounded by rocks. Campfires are allowed anytime, except when Emergency Burning Restrictions are in effect. Burning in a fire ring with the intent to eliminate debris is NOT a campfire and does require a burning permit in DNR protection areas.

No matter what type of outdoor fire you have, check the daily burning restrictions for your area before ignition and never leave a fire unattended. Remember, you may be held responsible for all suppression costs and potentially any damages associated.A campfire is no longer a campfire if the intent is to burn debris.

Fireworks can cause wildfires

Fireworks can cause wildfires.  Don's let your fun turn into flames.Forestry officials suggest caution with fireworks
By: Amy Luebke, DNR

Each year the use of both legal and illegal fireworks causes wildfires in Wisconsin.  Anyone using legal fireworks should do so only in a clear area away from buildings, vehicles and shrubbery and should have water or a fire extinguisher handy.  Remember that wildfires can occur anytime the ground is not snow covered.  Make sure you are aware of your local weather conditions and plan accordingly.  Fireworks can cause wildfires.  Don’t let your fun turn into flames!