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DNR issues special fire order requiring burn permits across a dozen counties

Drought conditions prompt concerns over risk of wildfires as fall approaches

A wildfire burns near Necedah.
A roughly 100-acre wildfire burns near Necedah on April 12, 2023. The fire caused local evacuations, but no injuries. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Exceptional and prolonged drought conditions have created the potential for elevated fire danger, largely in southern Wisconsin. That’s led the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to require burn permits in designated DNR protection areas across a dozen counties.

The special fire order affects Columbia, Crawford, Green Lake, Marquette, Portage, Richland, Sauk, Waupaca and Waushara counties. It also effects parts of Dane, Grant, and Iowa counties.

Beginning Monday, people in those areas must get a permit for burning debris piles, grass or certain wooded areas. They must also obtain a permit for using burn barrels. Permits won’t be required for campfires, but the agency urges people to use extreme caution.

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The DNR said a lack of rain has created concerns that wildfires may occur in southern Wisconsin.

Todd Rieck, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in La Crosse, said many parts of southwestern Wisconsin have seen a shortfall of 9 to 12 inches of rain since April.

“We’re moving into a higher fire danger season (where) the grasses start dying off, the leaves start falling more,” Rieck said. “With all this dried litter and tinder, fires are going to be a lot easier to catch and can move a lot faster.”

The DNR said debris burning continues to be one of the leading causes of wildfires. As of early August, Wisconsin had seen about 250 more wildfires than normal this year due to ongoing drought conditions.

The agency typically requires burn permits from January through May. The DNR said it plans to require burn permits until drought conditions improve due to lots of rain or snow.