Timber company says damage estimates from large Douglas County forest fire will top $1 million

Timber company says damage estimates from large Douglas County forest fire will top $1 million

12 September 2013

published by www.startribune.com

USA — A fire that damaged a 10-mile swath of forest land in northwestern Wisconsin this spring caused at least $1 million in damage, according to the timber company that owns most of the affected land.

The massive blaze in Douglas County damaged most of the 5,200 acres owned by Lyme St. Croix Timber Co., company executive Sean Ross said. In total it consumed about 7,400 acres, destroyed 17 homes and forced dozens of people to evacuate their homes, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/17QPe3q).

Ross said the company is still trying to estimate the total costs, which he predicted would run into the millions. The estimate would include replanting costs, which usually run about $200 per acre, he said.

Officials in Douglas County say they don’t have a value of the losses to homes.

The fire was sparked in May when debris from a tree-cutting machine ignited in the machine’s circulating blade, setting the arid ground ablaze.

An equipment operator tried to put out the small grass fire with a hand extinguisher and a bottle of water, and then used his tree-cutting machine to run over the flames, according to a report released this week by the state Department of Natural Resources. The operator told investigators he thought the fire was under control but it quickly spread at least 30 yards to a pile of wood that also caught fire.

The fire eventually burned an area 10 miles long and 1½ miles wide.

Some of the trees on the timber company’s 5,200 acres were salvaged but most were lost, Ross said. The property was not insured for fire damage.

The DNR said Monday the logging company was responsible for the fire and that employees withheld information about details after the fire broke out. The DNR charged the owner of the tree-cutting machine, Ray Duerr Logging, $600,000 for costs associated with the firefighting operation.

Duerr issued a statement Thursday disputing the DNR’s statements about how workers responded to the wildfire. The Rib Lake-based company said it acted quickly to put out the fire, but there was no time to use a pressurized water system on the cutting machine before the fire flew into the treetops. Duerr also said neither the company nor its employees withheld any information about the pressurized water system.

DNR spokesman Bill Cosh said in an email Thursday the agency stands behind its investigation and news release.

Ross said it was too early to say whether his company would seek damages from Duerr.

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