Two-thirds of all wildfires occur in spring, which means fire season is upon us.
A wildfire can be classified more specifically with names such as brush fire, forest fire, vegetation fire and grass fire. The accumulation of dry vegetation, fallen leaves and other debris present this time of year, is quick to dry out. Accompanied by warmer weather, drops in humidity and gusty winds, wildfires can quickly ignite and spread.
Each year an estimated 1,100 wildfires burn in DNR protection areas (about half the state, generally the more forested areas) and another estimated 2,500 wildfires burn in parts of the state where fire departments are the primary responders.
With the nicer weather, homeowners are cleaning up around their properties, sometimes choosing to burn leaves and branch debris. Debris burning is the leading cause of wildfires, especially this time of year. It is important to remember that storm systems bringing snow and rain give a short reprieve in fire danger.
Amery Fire Department Chief Dale Koehler said, “In the Amery fire area we have set up a burning permit system that is pretty fail safe. We ask that everybody burning in the town of Lincoln Black Brook, Alden and City of Amery, go to the Amery website under requests and fill out a burn permit. This burn permit has citizens look at the burning restrictions and rules and then a copy goes to the Fire Chief. This helps stop false alarms and helps people decide if burning is safe.”
Fire danger can vary greatly from one day to the next this time of the year. The Apple River Fire Department has seen an increase in calls over the past few weeks. One in particular was a quite large grass fire that spread over approximately 50 acres. The Apple River Fire Department received assistance from two other area departments and had a total of 45 firefighters putting out flames. Apple River Chief Alec Adams said, “It is important for people to obtain burning permits snow off to snow on.” He also suggests people burn in a contained ring with a screened lid if at all possible and encourages burners to look online at their town or DNR website to stay informed of burning bans.
The deadliest wildfire in the history of the United States took place in Wisconsin. The Peshtigo Fire of 1871 occurred in northeastern Wisconsin. It happened to be the same day that the Great Chicago Fire began. Historically, the Peshtigo Fire has been somewhat overshadowed by the Great Chicago Fire, though the Peshtigo Fire covered a much greater area and had many more fatalities. The Peshtigo Fire burned 1,875 square miles and destroyed 12 communities, killing between 1,200 and 2,500 people. The fire is thought to have been caused by small fires used for land clearing that blew out of control and created a firestorm.
Burning is not your only option. Try alternatives such as composting or leaving brush in the woods for wildlife cover. The best practice is to not burn at all or to wait until surrounding vegetation greens-up in the summer.
If you wish to burn, get a burning permit and follow the rules of the day. You can stay aware of fire danger and burning permit requirements by checking the Department of Natural Resources website dnr.wi.gov, keyword “fire” or calling 1-888-WIS-BURN. Information is updated each day at 11 a.m.