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Northern Wisconsin under fire weather watch amid warm temps, increased winds

DNR suspends burning permits in 21 counties, readies firefighting equipment in Rhinelander, Solon Springs

Wisconsin DNR responds to a wildfire in the Boundary Waters with a firetruck.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources firefighters and equipment are helping counterparts in Minnesota respond to the Greenwood Fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Photo courtesy of Kirby Dernovsek/Wisconsin DNR

Burning permits have been suspended in 21 counties by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as the northern third of the state is under a fire weather watch.

The record snowfall recorded in some parts of northern Wisconsin has melted away, exposing last year’s dry, dead vegetation. With a week of warm temperatures, low relative humidity and increased winds, DNR Wildfire Prevention Specialist Catherine Koele said conditions are prime for fires to get out of control.

“So, certainly we are right at that volatile time when the pine and sandy soil areas are at their peak for fires that can get up into the crowns of the trees and move very fast,” Koele said.

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Once snow melts and spring weather arrives, it takes around 21 days for a year’s crop of green grasses and plants to get established and make it harder for wildfires to spread, Koele said. In the meantime, 17 counties from Douglas to Polk and eastward to Florence and Marinette are under very high fire danger.

The DNR says dry air and windy conditions are forecast in the region until a chance of rain moves in Thursday night.

The state has firefighting equipment at the ready, including two Wisconsin Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopters stationed in the Oneida County City of Rhinelander and two single-engine air tankers stationed in the Douglas County Village of Solon Springs.

“Our No. 1 recommendation is to hold off on burning until conditions improve,” Koele said. “Then obviously, before you burn, know what the local fire restrictions are. Obtain proper permits and then follow the rules that are on the permit.”

Southern Wisconsin was dealing with high fire last month. Now, new vegetation in the southern half of the state has already grown in and the region has received some rain over the last few weeks, according to the DNR, lowering the risk of wildfires.

There have already been 281 wildfires this year, including the Arcadia Fire, which burned more than 3,000 acres. Sunday also marked the 10-year anniversary of the Germann Road Fire in Douglas County, which burned nearly 7,500 acres and destroyed 104 structures.