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Western, central Wisconsin experiencing very high fire danger

DNR officials have responded to more than 100 fires so far this year, affecting almost 300 acres. Almost half of those acres were burning on Monday.

2020 wildfires west coast california wildfire
Firefighters monitor a controlled burn along Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to help contain the Dolan Fire near Big Sur, Calif., Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. Nic Coury/AP Photo

State officials are warning counties in western and central Wisconsin about a high risk of wildfires.

On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported very high fire danger in 28 counties in the western half of the state, from St. Croix and Taylor counties down to Dane and Green counties. Much of the rest of the state has a high fire risk aside from eight counties in far northern Wisconsin.

Michele Witecha, a prescribed fire specialist for the DNR who is currently supporting wildfire suppression efforts, said the current fire danger comes from high winds and low relative humidity levels across the region, on top of the lack of significant rain and dry vegetation.

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DNR map showing very high fire danger in Wisconsin
Officials say the state is on alert due to very high fire danger across much of western and central Wisconsin. Image courtesy of Wisconsin DNR

DNR officials responded to 19 wildfires affecting 120 acres on Monday. Witecha said many were a result of debris burning by people who were not aware of the high fire risk.

“We have suspended burning today. However, people that chose to burn without a permit, we have had several fires start,” Witecha said Tuesday. “That’s why we’ve suspended special permits and recommended that people do not burn today until conditions have changed with adequate rainfall.”

She said the DNR had already responded to nine fires as of 3:00 p.m. Tuesday.

Even with storms moving into western Wisconsin Tuesday afternoon and evening, Witecha said the precipitation may not immediately improve dry vegetation. She encouraged residents in western and central parts of the state to check the DNR’s burning restrictions web page for the latest conditions before burning.

The DNR has responded to more than 107 wildfires this year, burning more than 276 acres in the state. Witecha said that isn’t an unusual amount, especially compared to 2021 when the state saw the most active fire season since 2012. She said that was largely due to a rapid snow melt that left almost the entire state vulnerable to fires in the spring.

“This year has been a lot more moderate. We’ve received a lot more rainfall and snow cover has decreased in a more moderate fashion,” she said. “We’ve been able to take our time a little bit more. And the wildfire numbers are nowhere near what we saw last year.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday that all or part of 15 counties in southern Wisconsin are experiencing moderate drought conditions. Northern Wisconsin is also experiencing abnormally dry conditions, with some moderate drought in Polk and Burnett counties.