Investigators: Fort McCoy prescribed burn did not cause April wildfire

The western Wisconsin army base shared some information about a Department of Defense investigation into the cause of the 3K-acre wildfire

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 U.S. Department of Defense investigation into a 3,000-acre wildfire at Fort McCoy found that prescribed burn activities at the base did not cause the fire.

The Monroe County army base released some information on the results of an investigation into the Arcadia Fire in a press release on Tuesday.

The wildfire began on the evening of April 12 and caused local evacuations and a temporary shutdown of Interstate 94. The fire burned 3,168 acres, most of it on the grounds of Fort McCoy and 109 acres affected outside the base. The blaze damaged at least three structures and destroyed one shed before it was contained on April 14.

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Facebook posts showed Fort McCoy staff were completing prescribed burns at the base on the day of the fire, even as state officials warned about the high fire danger in the region.

The press release from Fort McCoy said Department of Defense fire investigators from outside the base concluded that the April 12 prescribed burn did not cause the fire. The release said the investigation found the wildfire started over a mile and a half away from where the prescribed burn was happening.

The release said investigators were unable to determine the cause of the fire “due to evidence possibly being washed away by heavy rain and snow fall in the days following the wildfire.” The investigation did rule out troop training base operations and lightning as possible causes.

Investigators were unable to determine if a prescribed burn conducted on April 11, the day before the fire, played a role in the incident, the release said.

According to the release, investigators found that the prescribed burns “complied with all applicable standards required to be conducted by a federal military installation.”

Fort McCoy’s release said the investigation did result in improved policies at the base and plans are underway to rehabilitate the burned areas.

The release said the U.S. Army Claims Service continues to adjudicate claims from those who suffered damages from the fire. Fort McCoy leadership plans to meet with the community in the coming weeks to discuss the results of the investigation.