Rhinelander, WI, USA — Fireworks that light up the evening skies are also lighting up the dry forest below, according to a state Department of Natural Resources fire control specialist.
We are urging caution on any outdoor burning, especially fireworks, said fire technician Phil Puestow, from the DNR’s ranger station in Rhinelander.
The sporadic and short-lived thunderstorms have not dropped enough rain to remove the fire danger, which is moderate in the four-county area of Oneida, Vilas, Lincoln and Forest. Little rain is in the forecast for the remainder of the week and things will start to dry out again, he said. That would trigger a high fire danger alert.
Unsupervised fireworks displays and impromptu setting them off are making rangers and local fire departments nervous.
We had nine fire calls alone on Sunday, Puestow said. Six of them were due to fireworks, Puestow said. Statewide, we have had 42 fires caused by fireworks year to date. Sixteen fires caused by fireworks have been reported in the four-county service area, he adds.
The most serious fire happened in the Merrill area Sunday. Citations for causing a fire may be pending in that case, he said. He reminds the public that in addition to possible citations, people who cause fires through carelessness, including fireworks, could be responsible for fire suppression costs, reaching into the hundreds or thousands of dollars in addition to the damage that’s caused.
Thankfully, he said, most of the fires Sunday were small. The biggest, in Lac du Flambeau, was less than three-tenths of an acre.
In some cases, people who set off the fireworks (hundreds or thousands of dollars worth), also leaving the debris behind. That, too, could bring a citation for littering.
He notes that young people are firing off the fireworks from their vehicles, leaving a possible smoldering fire behind.
Mother Nature hasn’t been helpful either, with at least one lightning strike causing a fire in the Cassian area. The strike to a tree started the dry peat in a swamp to begin burning last Wednesday. A pilot of a commercial plane spotted smoke while overhead Thursday and notified authorities.
We worked on it Thursday night, all day Friday and part of Saturday, he said. You have to root them out, dig them out and get lots of water on them.
The green foliage deceives some into thinking the fire danger is low, he said. But even a tossed cigarette landing in a dry spot can flare up – that happened Sunday morning. It was fortunate that another motorist spotted the smoke and notified authorities.
Puestow believes the increased use of fireworks will cause even more fires. Fireworks tents use to spring up around the Fourth and then they were folded away. Now, the tents are for most of the summer and even year-round permanent fireworks stands are here.
The permits issued at the stands need close reading, he said. The permits in many cases say the permit holder can light off fireworks on property owned by the company. Only town chairpersons can sign fireworks permits, he said.