Hot weather, windy conditions lead to high fire danger across portions of Wisconsin

Wisconsin DNR says to avoid outdoor burning over Labor Day weekend

A wildfire burns forest land in Monroe County
A wildfire continues to burn in northern Monroe County on Thursday, April 13, 2023. DNR officials said the fire’s intensity died down in the evening, allowing firefighters to increase containment lines. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

A high fire danger is in effect for portions of Wisconsin heading into Labor Day weekend.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said hot weather, mixed with dry and windy conditions throughout the southern and central portions of the state, is leading to the elevated fire risk. Catherine Koele, a wildfire prevention specialist for the DNR, said residents should avoid all outdoor burning during the next few days.

“That includes anything that can cause a spark,” Koele said. “Anything that can cause a spark can cause a wildfire.”

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Koele said risks even include using a chainsaw in the woods, dragging boat trailer chains or having a fire while camping. On windy days or dry days, embers from any fire, especially burn piles and campfires, can easily get out of control and cause a wildfire if not properly extinguished, according to the DNR.

The National Weather Service said high temperatures will reach the mid-to-upper-90s on Sunday and Monday in the southern portion of the state. Jaclyn Anderson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Milwaukee/Sullivan, said those temperatures are high for this time of year and could even break records in some areas.

“It’s a pretty significant heat wave for this time of year for us,” Anderson said.

“The combination of the heat, the extreme heat, and then the drier conditions are what is leading to some of those fire concerns,” Anderson added.

Wisconsin has been dealing with ongoing drought conditions for much of the summer. Koele said the central and southern part of the state is hovering at severe to extreme drought level right now because of high temperatures and low precipitation totals.

“We’ve been in kind of this deficit over much of the late spring and summer, and we just can’t seem to catch up,” she said. “That’s really not in our favor when it comes to causing fires.”

Even with this year’s drought, the state has been growing warmer and wetter overall, with average precipitation increasing about 5 inches since 1950, according to a report from the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts. The past decade has been the wettest on record, but the Midwest is likely to see more rapid onsets of drought.

The state DNR has already responded to 10 wildfires in the last week, according to a news release.

“The recent fires were small due to higher humidity and quick action by suppression resources. With the forecasted conditions and holiday recreation concerns, more fires are expected over the weekend,” the release said.

Koele said the agency is shifting resources to the southern portion of the state to deal with any possible fires that could occur there.

“If you do cause a wildlife, the best thing to do is leave it to the professionals, call 911 immediately,” Koele said. “Quick response really lessens the chances of that fire spreading and doing more damage.”

The Wisconsin DNR’s fire safety tips include:

  • Avoid outdoor burning until conditions improve.
  • Operate equipment (chainsaws, off-road vehicles, lawnmowers, etc.) early in the morning or late in the day to avoid sparks at peak burn hours.
  • Secure dragging trailer chains.
  • Report fires early and call 911.

You can also check the fire danger situation for specific areas here.