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An anniversary to remember, but not one to celebrate

April 17, 2010
By Catherine Koele, Wisconsin DNR Wildfire Prevention Specialist

MADISON, Wis. -One year ago today, it was a beautiful spring day in Wisconsin.

The sun was shining, there was light breeze, and the temperature was hovering around 75 degrees.

Like many days in Wisconsin this time of year, it was the first glimpse of summer just around the corner and people were eager to get outside and do some annual clean-up on their properties.

At around three o'clock in the afternoon, the smell of smoke filled the air and numerous DNR fire control and local fire department personnel, engines, and air patrol immediately raced to the scene of a reported uncontrolled wildfire. In the end, The Easton Fire burned 106 acres and four buildings on 21 different landowners' properties in Adams County.

Investigators discovered the Easton Fire started by an act of careless debris burning. DNR firefighters with dozers and plows constructed fire lines to save several homes.

Not only did this fire change the landscape and the perspectives of local landowners, but it also changed the lives of two individuals who were responsible for allowing their fire to escape and falsifying information to the investigative authorities. Like all wildfires in Wisconsin, individuals found responsible may be subject to suppression costs (the Easton Fire alone incurred over $18,000), fines, community service, and even jail time.

Debris burning continues to be the number one cause of wildfires in Wisconsin and the Easton Fire started in typical debris burning fashion: the fire danger was elevated, coupled with a property owners' failure to obtain a proper burning permit or follow the daily restrictions.

In general, spring weather conditions make it a volatile time for the public to be debris burning. No matter what time of year, high temperatures, low relative-humidity, increased wind speeds and dead or dry vegetation is a lethal combination for anyone who intends to light a match in the outdoors.

In order to battle the on-going problem of debris burning, the DNR recently implemented an electronic burning permit system that allows the public to burn when conditions are safe

Those wishing to burn simply obtain their annual permit from a Ranger Station or Emergency Fire Warden then call a toll-free number (1-888-WIS-BURN) or check online on the day they want to burn.

On April 17, 2009, the Smokey fire danger signs in Adams County were set at "very high" and all outdoor burning was suspended for the day. One easy phone call or visit to the web could have prevented this fire.

"We are looking at ways to make it even easier to obtain a burning permit and check the daily burning restrictions," said Trent Marty, director of forest protection at DNR. "It's important to remember that anyone found burning without a permit or contrary to the permit restrictions will be held responsible for their fire if it gets away."

Debris burning should always be the last alternative. Today, there are several environmentally safe methods of disposing yard waste such as recycling, composting or leaving debris in the woods for wildlife habitat. If burning is the only option, be sure to obtain proper burning permits and follow the rules.

Marty added, "As we all know in Wisconsin, the weather conditions change quickly. On a given day, it may not be safe to burn, but wait a day or two and burning conditions could change for the better. Having a little patience and following the rules is a proven philosophy that will protect lives, property and natural resources from the potential risk of wildfire."



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