It’s Wildfire Season — Are You Ready?

Wildfire in the West is in the headlines a lot these days. Wisconsin too has to battle wildfire, and this piece shows how fires get started, how they get dealt with, and how to protect yourself from them in the Badger State.

Fire has been a valuable land management tool for generations, but historical fires in Wisconsin and recent fires in other parts of the country are a reminder of wildfire’s potential for destruction. To be safe from the ravages of fire takes both common sense and coordinated planning.

It is important to understand the difference between prescribed fire and wildfire. A prescribed fire is set within an established perimeter for defined management objectives under specific weather conditions. Prescribed fires are ignited with forethought and care under conditions that are conducive to controlled fire behavior. On the other hand, wildfires are unplanned and can occur during extreme weather with high winds and low humidities. Because wildfire is not confined to a safe perimeter and burns indiscriminately, it can destroy entire wood stands — everything from the canopy down to the ground cover.

Almost 2,000 Wisconsin wildfires last year

“In 2022 the Wisconsin DNR recorded 922 wildfires that burned 893 acres of land,” says Ron Schneider, DNR Cooperative Fire Specialist and Fire Department Liaison for all 842 fire departments in the state. “That does not include all fires in the state because there are areas (mostly the southern third of the state) where the DNR doesn’t have jurisdiction over outdoor burning.

The area not under DNR jurisdiction is managed by local fire departments. “They have a different reporting system, but we can estimate that they dealt with another thousand fires,” says Jolene Ackerman, Wildland Urban Interface Coordinator for the Wisconsin DNR.

What causes wildfires?

Both the Wisconsin DNR and local fire departments are gearing up right now because Wisconsin’s wildfire season has begun. “Most wildfires tend to happen in spring, and this coincides with people doing property cleanup work — burning leaves, brush, and land-clearing burns,” Ackerman says. “People associate spring with being wet. The ground may be wet. There may even be patches of snow in the woods, and people think it’s safe to burn yard debris or use burn barrels, but the reality is the surrounding landscape is dead grass, dead branches and leaves, and all of that material can be very flammable. Often, people aren’t careful to watch the weather before they burn. Wind gusts can blow embers or loft a burning leaf to other areas, causing spot fires that can rapidly become a wildfire.”

To read more of this piece, check out the article in My Wisconsin Woods.

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