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DNR suspends burning permits as elevated wildfire risks hit the Northwoods this week

Wisconsin DNR staff respond to a fire in Juneau County in April 2023.
Wisconsin DNR
Wisconsin DNR staff respond to a fire in Juneau County in April 2023.

The Northwoods may be greener than it was even a week ago, but there are still plenty of dry plants and trees on the landscape.

“We’re at a peak where the pine and sandy areas are very volatile and very susceptible to what’s called a crown fire, so when the fire moves up into the trees. It can be very difficult and very challenging to control and suppress. We’re in that window for a potentially large, large fire,” said Catherine Koele, Wisconsin DNR Wildfire Prevention Specialist.

The Northern third of Wisconsin is in a bit of a dry stretch which is adding to the fire conditions.

We’ve also had some warm, windy days with low humidity.

The combination of which means it doesn’t take much for a small spark to turn into a big fire.

The DNR has suspended burn permits while the fire danger is this high.

“We also have moved a lot of resources from the southern part of the state up into the north to help supplement and add capacity to our resources on the ground. We also have access to Wisconsin National Guard Black Hawk Helicopters which are currently stationed in Rhinelander. We also have two single-engine air tankers prepositioned in Solon Springs,” said Koele.

Wisconsin DNR

Fire danger can change from day to day.

It will likely remain a concern for the rest of this week until some rain is in the forecast, but Koele warns it needs to be a fairly heavy rainfall to improve conditions.

“Even with a little light sprinkle, that doesn’t do a whole lot under these conditions. Things can really dry out. In fact, 10 years ago [Sunday], we had the Germann Road Fire which burned about 8,000 acres in Douglas County,” said Koele. “So certainly, we still have some fire season left, potential for large fires, and even with a little bit of rain we can still get right back into an elevated fire day. Until vegetation really greens up, we’re not out of the woods.”

There have been more than 280 fires in Wisconsin this year that have burned more than 3,300 acres.

Koele says this has been a fairly typical fire season so far in terms of timing. If it continues that way, conditions should improve by Memorial Day Weekend.

The biggest thing people can do to help is to not do any burning.

You can learn more about daily fire conditions and burning restrictions on the DNR’s website.

If you cause a fire or spot one, Koele urges you to call 911.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.