Multiple fire departments fight Devil’s Lake blaze as DNR urges caution due to dry conditions

Multiple fire departments fight Devil’s Lake blaze as DNR urges caution due to dry conditions

30 April 2018

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USA: Multiple fire departments and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources teams battled a wildfire Monday at Devil’s Lake State Park.

The blaze damaged about 2 acres of forest near the base of the Potholes Trail on the south end of the park’s east bluff. Baraboo Fire Chief Kevin Stieve said authorities responded to the fire shortly after 5 p.m. and had the situation under control within two hours.

DNR Fitchburg forestry leader Rebecca Mouw said the steep, rocky terrain at Devil’s Lake created several challenges for DNR specialists and firefighters. She said the key to extinguishing the blaze was securing enough man power to transport water up the bluff.

“We’re at an extreme or very high fire danger, so we can expect almost every ember to start a wild land fire,” she said. “That means we have to put it all out. If we miss one, it will rekindle, so we need a ton of water.”

Baraboo, Reedsburg, Merrimac, North Freedom, Lake Delton and Kilbourn fire departments responded to the blaze, along with DNR teams from Fitchburg, Poynette, Wisconsin Dells and Madison. Mouw said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

Elsewhere, officials have raised “red flag” warnings in seven counties and reported dangerous conditions across the rest of the state after more than 40 other wildfires were ignited since Sunday.

Christine Koele, a wildfire prevention specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said the fires were started due to a combination of factors. She said higher temperatures coupled with low humidity levels have further dried dead vegetation underneath now melted snows. Gusty winds are also causing fires to quickly spread.

“Obviously, the number one cause of wildfires in Wisconsin is people,” she said. “Ninety-eight percent of all our fires are caused by people, and most of it is related to debris burning.”

As of Monday afternoon, a live fire-tracking map on the DNR’s website said two other small wildfire started in Sauk County. Several small fires also were reported in Columbia County.

Lake Delton Fire Department Police Chief Darren Jorgensen said Sauk County residents should avoid any open burning until dry conditions have subsided.

“Postpone any leaf piles and brush pile fires that need to be burned,” he said. “Don’t even try to take precautions besides not burning at all.”

Although most of the fires have been small and contained, two major burnings in Clark County on Sunday required support from tanker planes. The fires near Bruce Mound Winter Sports Area burned more than 120 acres combined. No injuries were reported, and no structures were damaged, but the fires remain under investigation.

“It was very steep, which makes things difficult because you’d typically fight fire from the ground using dozers and engines,” Koele said. “When you have that steep terrain, we can’t get in there, so having access to those single engine air tankers allowed us to suppress those fires in a safe manner.”

The DNR issues red flag warnings when weather creates extremely dangerous fire conditions. The current warnings include Jackson, Trempealeau, Juneau, Monroe, Clark, La Crosse and Adams counties. Sauk and Columbia counties were listed as having “very high” fire danger as well.

Koele said the DNR works with the National Weather Service to determine when conditions are serious enough to warrant warnings. National Weather Service Meteorologist Denny VanCleve said he anticipates the hazardous conditions will extend through Tuesday evening.

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