Spring cleanup is always a busy time in the Northwoods as those with second homes and cabins make the trek northward to prepare for a summer of fun. For many, this will mean cleaning up trees and branches damaged by winter storms.
“Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes.” A saying that rings true during spring in Wisconsin. While March signals the beginning of spring fire season for us, it can be interrupted by rainfall and snowstorms. Wet weather gives firefighters a chance to recharge and can be an opportunity for people to burn yard debris while it’s safer to do so.
The yard around your home may currently be filled with an assortment of fallen leaves, pine needles and branches. Recent ice storms in northern Wisconsin have contributed significantly to the volume of debris around our homes. If the recent widespread ice storms have damaged the trees on your property, take some time to assess the damage and realistically determine if you can handle the cleanup yourself or if it’s time to call in some professionals. Watch for damaged branches and bent trees that could fall. Prioritize your physical safety before attempting any cleanup activities.
You may now wonder what to do with all this debris leftover after winter and those recent ice storms. Some communities have brush collection services or a site where you can drop off leaves, pine needles and branches. Perhaps there’s enough debris on your property to warrant the rental of a brush chipper. Or, if your property is large enough, creating a brush pile away from buildings could serve as a shelter for wildlife. Larger pieces of hardwood could be cut for future use as firewood or campfire logs. If none of these alternatives works for your situation and your community allows for burning the material, timing your burn around periods of wet weather may be the safer choice.
Before you light that match, take the following precautions:
– Check for burning restrictions and permit requirements first. You can find this information on the DNR burning restrictions webpage or by calling your nearest DNR office or fire department. – Check the weather forecast. Delay burning if dry or windy weather is predicted. Be aware of your county’s fire danger forecast by calling 1-888-WIS-BURN or searching “burn” on the DNR website.
– Keep your piles small, with the area around the pile cleared of any burnable vegetation.
– Have an attached hose or other water source handy.
– Stay with the fire until you have completed the burn. Make sure it’s out before you leave by dousing the ashes with water and mixing it in. Then, just to be safe, add more water. If any unburned branches or larger pieces of wood remain unburned, check back frequently to make sure this material hasn’t reignited.
In Wisconsin, spring fire season typically lasts from snowmelt to “green up” (when the grasses are green and leaves are budding out again). Many parts of our state are still experiencing drought conditions, even coming out of winter. Fire officials will be suspending outdoor burning as needed when fire danger conditions become elevated.
Winter may seem like a perfectly safe time to burn, but it’s important to practice fire safety year-round to prevent wildfires. When the ground is entirely snow-covered, burning is permitted in DNR Protection Areas without a DNR burning permit for debris piles. As soon as the snow melts, DNR burning permits are required again. Always check with local fire officials before conducting any burning, especially in the spring.
Snow amounts vary across the landscape this time of year. The southern half of the state tends to have little to no snow, while the north looks like a winter wonderland. Just when you think winter is coming to an end, there’s that one lingering snowstorm to make everything white again. Suddenly, spring is finally here to stay, and it’s fire season!
Here are some tips for safe winter burning when the ground is snow-covered:
• Gather and pile brush in an open area away from over-hanging branches.
• If snow is in the forecast, place a tarp over the brush pile to keep it dry and time the burn, so the snow around the pile keeps the fire contained.
• When ready to burn, choose a calm day (less than 8 mph) with complete snow-cover on the ground.
• Snow must be next to the fire and stay there for the duration of the burn.
• Notify the local fire department and dispatch offices to avoid unnecessary fire response.
• Place small amounts of crumpled clean paper into the brush around the base of the pile.
• Light the paper all around the base of the pile. Do not use the fire to dispose of household garbage, rubber tires, oil or other accelerants.
• Using a rake or shovel, turn the debris into the flames to ensure all the materials are consumed.
• Avoid standing in direct contact or downwind of smoke and never leave the fire unattended.
Remember, spring is the peak of Wisconsin’s fire season. So, plan ahead and don’t wait until then to conduct debris burning. Better yet, consider alternatives to burning; compost, chip, leave brush for wildlife habitat or haul away to a transfer site. To obtain a free DNR burning permit or for more fire safety tips, visit this DNR website.
Spring Is The Most Critical Fire Season In Wisconsin
March through May, Wisconsin’s snow line recedes, winds and temperature increase and plentiful brown grasses, pine needles and leaf litter receptive to fire across the landscape. This combination is the perfect cocktail for wildfires to occur. Add people conducting spring clean-up around their property by burning yard debris to the mix, resulting in many wildfires.
Planning For The Weather
For most of us, planning for the weather on any day may mean dressing in layers or carrying an umbrella. Measuring the width of the brown band on a woolly bear caterpillar is considered by some to be more reliable than the TV meteorologist.
Planning for the weather takes on a whole new meaning for the men and women involved in wildfire management. They measure various aspects of weather to help determine the likelihood of a wildfire starting and predict how it will behave.
State regulations allow individual households to burn small amounts of dry, household rubbish which includes only unrecyclable paper and cardboard, natural fibers, clean, untreated wood and similar materials, and small quantities of dry leaves and plant clippings unless prohibited by local ordinance.
However, fire officials caution that the open burning of many materials produce a variety of air pollutants that is unhealthy for your or your neighbors to inhale. In addition, debris burning is the number one cause of wildfires in Wisconsin, accounting for nearly 30% of the state’s wildfires each year.
If burning is the only option for yard waste, burning permits may be required to burn yard debris piles or for broadcast burning any time the ground is not entirely snow-covered. Permits ensure legal and responsible burning with minimal wildfire risk.
Over the last week, the DNR has responded to nearly 50 wildfires mainly caused by equipment and debris burning.
The most critical fire danger is now in northern Wisconsin, particularly in the northwest, where significant rainfall will be needed to improve the situation.
Low relative humidity is expected through this weekend, with the lowest across northern Wisconsin. This dry air, combined with warm temperatures, aid in the spread of wildfires. Winds are expected to remain light, which will be a large influence in helping fires that start to stay small.
Wisconsin DNR Burning Permits will be suspended as needed throughout the weekend. Before you burn any debris this weekend, check for any suspensions or restrictions at bit.ly/WiFireDanger.
Please exercise caution with anything that could start a wildfire. Operate equipment, including chainsaws, ATVs/UTVs, lawnmowers, etc., early in the morning or late in the day to avoid sparks when fire weather is most critical. Secure trailer chains to keep them from dragging. Keep campfires small and contained and delay having them until the evening hours.
Please remain alert and report fires early by calling 911.
May 14 marks the 8th anniversary of the Germann Road Fire in Douglas County that burned 7,442 acres and 100 buildings including 100 homes and cabins.
WILDFIRE REPORT FOR APRIL 22, 2021
Wisconsin Wildfire Season: Check Fire Danger
Spring is the peak wildfire season in Wisconsin, and we all play a part in reducing wildfire risk. This time of year, there is still a great deal of dead vegetation that dries out quickly and is available fuel for a wildfire.
Low relative humidity, warm temps, and gusty winds quickly drive up the fire danger. Light rain will only temporarily reduce the fire risk. Currently, the pine trees are beginning to candle and pollen cones are becoming visible. Pine trees are the most flammable tree type in the Great Lakes region and candling and pollen production coincides with the time of year when the risk for crown fires in tree tops is greatest.
Since March 1, DNR firefighters have responded to 441 wildfires. The fires have burned 1,584 acres and destroyed 32 buildings. Almost half of the fires have been caused by debris burning (e.g., brush, trash, burn barrel use, etc.). Equipment is the second leading cause, with fires being ignited by vehicles and sparks. Other causes included power line, improper ash disposal, campfires, railroads, and incendiary.
Whether you’re out fishing, hunting, camping, doing yard work, or looking for mushrooms, exercise caution and be aware of current conditions. Fire danger can vary greatly from one day to the next this time of the year, depending on weather and dryness of the vegetation.
Burning permits are frequently suspended. Check our burning restrictions page for current statewide fire danger and burning permit restrictions. Curious about where wildfires are actively burning? Check out our fire activity webpage.
It’s been a busy wildfire season in Wisconsin so far and it’s only April 8. During the first week of April, 161 wildfires have burned more than 1,000 acres; 19 buildings were destroyed and another 179 were threatened by the flames but saved with fire suppression efforts.
The main fire causes have been debris burning and equipment, accounting for more than half of the fires. However, the two largest fires of the week, in Juneau and Waukesha counties, were ignited along railroads.
Recent rain has given us a bit of a reprieve, but it won’t take long for the dead grass, leaves and pine needles to dry out and be ready to ignite once again.
April is the busiest month for wildfires in our state. Stay vigilant with any outdoor flames, smoke, campfires, ash disposal or equipment use. Put off burning your debris pile until the vegetation “greens up,” or becomes less dry after spring rains.
Click here to check daily fire danger, wildfire reports and burning restrictions.
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
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.
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”.
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.
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.”