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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Wildfire Prevention Week highlights annual fire season and prevention in Wisconsin

WOODRUFF. -- Warm winds fanning Wisconsin's dry and dead vegetation is expected to increase fire risk statewide in late April, just in time for Wildfire Prevention Week when the Department of Natural Resources forest protection experts launch a new "live status wildfire occurrence<http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestFire/restrictions.html?showfires>" web page.

Catherine Koele, DNR wildfire prevention specialist, said due to rapid spring changes in vegetation and weather conditions, Wisconsin's wildfire season is projected to pick up during Wildfire Prevention Week, April 17-23.

"Wildfire prevention week could not have landed on the calendar at a better time for us this year," Koele said. "With all the precipitation we've had around the state in early April, we thought we might have a relatively short fire season before things green-up. It's amazing how quickly the conditions can change."

The rapid evolution of outdoor conditions into fire weather is what Koele says is the purpose of Wildfire Prevention Week.

"The focus is on fire weather awareness. Weather has a direct correlation to fire occurrence," she said. "The key elements that determine fire starts and how intense a fire will burn are wind, temperature, relative humidity and moisture levels in the vegetation."

On average, Wisconsin has more than 4,000 wildfires every year statewide. The majority of wildfires in Wisconsin occur from March through May. Shortly after the snow disappears, a dry spring or even a few days in between rain can leave grasses, pine needles and leaf litter very dry, creating hazardous conditions.

Every fire that occurs on land under DNR jurisdiction is tracked and will be posted for the first time this year on the new online live status wildfire occurrence<http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestFire/restrictions.html?showfires> web page.

"Things like location, report time, fire cause, weather conditions, suppression resources, structures threatened or lost," Koele said. "Essentially, everything that goes into our fire reporting system which helps us monitor data for current and historical trends."

The new real time fire webpage displays a dot point with the estimated fire location along with preliminary fire cause, acres burned and structures threatened information. The page is constantly updated as resources are dispatched to the fire and the fire fighters are updating dispatch. This will continue until a fire is out. If a fire is under investigation, the fire report could be pending for days, even weeks as investigators gather information and make a determination.

Koele said it is common for the public to associate wildfires with the western part of the country. The difference between western wildfires and Wisconsin's are in size. Most Wisconsin wildfires are 1 to 2 acres because of rapid initial attack by fire department and DNR resources, along with good access to most initiating fires.

"This can be credited to the training of Wisconsin's fire fighters who bring rapid response and skill to the scene, as well as being based in strategic locations adjacent to the wildland," Koele said.

The DNR's goal is to respond to wildfires in less than 30 minutes from the time the fire is reported. The DNR's average response time is less than 15 minutes with support from local fire departments.
Wildfire Prevention Week is a good reminder to the public that a wildfire can happen to anyone.

"Wildfires do not discriminate. It happens to well-intended people who just weren't aware of the conditions or who neglected to take proper care in preparing for their burn," Koele said. "The simplest way to prevent a wildfire is to avoid burning."

Failing to obtain proper burn permits or follow the rules on the permit may result in a citation. Anyone found responsible for starting a wildfire is liable for all suppression costs and potentially any damages.

With the recent elevated fire risk, fire reports indicate a jump in fire activity over the weekend placing the 2016 total at 231 fires, burning 240 acres. The top cause continues to be debris burning.

To view the new current fire activity, fire restrictions or fire danger page, search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov<http://dnr.wi.gov/>, for "fire<http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestFire/>."

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