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Fire risk elevated after warmest winter on record

Pine Lake Fire Department Facebook

In the Northwoods, we’ve had an unusually warm and dry winter, and that leads to concerns about wildfires.

This winter was the warmest ever in the state since record-keeping began in 1895.

It’s led to massive economic repercussions for the Northwoods, a region that depends on winter sports tourism.

That’s not all.

It’s also opened up the door to wildfires.

Catherine Koele is a Wildfire Prevention Specialist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

She said that the lack of snow this season has brought Wisconsin an early fire season.

“We went snow free statewide in February. So that is certainly a lot earlier than in normal years, we've about doubled the number of fires we traditionally have at this point of the season,” said Koele.

Typically, fires in Wisconsin start just after the snow cover melts.

This year,we’ve had just under 500 fires, burning almost 1,000 acres.

That’s significantly more than previous years.

In 2022, there were around 140 fires that burnt over 300 acres.

The Wisconsin DNR is reminding people to hold off on burning until vegetation greens up.

If you do choose to burn, obtain proper burning permits and make sure you follow the safety tips listed.

Always make sure your fires are completely out before you leave.

There is some welcomed rain forecasted in the near future, but Koele says it’s important to not become complacent with fire safety.

“I can honestly say that in my tenure with the department, I've actually seen a decline in the number of wildfires over the last 20 years. So certainly this year is a bit unique with the early fire season. But over the last 20, 30 years we have seen an overall decline,” said Koele.

Koele attributes that to quick citizen reporting, alternatives to burning, and media coverage when there’s elevated risk.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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