Wildfire burns five acres in Arena, Gov. declares statewide fire emergency

Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

A DNR dozer working to create fire breaks at the Reimann Road fire in Arena April 1. Photo via Mike Finlay

Almost 491 acres of land were burned in 41 wildfires across the state over the weekend, including five acres of prairie restoration land in Arena off Reimann Road.

The property that burned on April 1 was a savanna prairie restoration project that was scheduled and permitted for a prescribed burn which became uncontrolled, said Ralph Sheffer, a forest ranger with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“There had been a number of trees that had been cut prior to the fire. The intent was to burn a small portion of the larger savanna restoration area when the fire escaped control,” said Sheffer. “So there was a mixture of grass and dead and downed trees that required a significant amount of mop up so they were fully extinguished going into this dry weekend.”

The fire was contained to just the property it started, but does border nearby farms. The DNR brought in equipment to dig 5-6 foot fire breaks around the perimeter of the fire, to prevent further spreading.

Sheffer said this is standard practice when dozers are deployed to a fire. The machines create breaks by flipping over a layer of sod.

On Monday, Gov. Ever’s declared a state of emergency due to the vast wildfires the state experienced from April 1 to April 4, and due to continued unfavorable weather conditions.

The DNR has requested the National Guard to provide fire suppression support as the state remains at high risk for wildfires. The emergency order will allow quick mobilization of National Guard helicopters and other resources.

Since the start of fire season, there have been over 320 wildfires and over 1,400 acres burned in Wisconsin. Sheffer said wildfire season in Wisconsin runs approximately from mid-March to the end of May. Already, this surpasses the total amount of acres burned in the 2016, 2017 and 2019 seasons.

“Our primary fire season is from the time the snow melts until vegetation greens up,” said Sheffer. “Coming off of a dry fall has set the stage for dry fuels this spring. With the lack of moisture we’re experiencing right now this leads to the elevated fire conditions.”

Sheffer advises people to hold off on burning of any kind until there is a substantial amount of rainfall. He also advises that people keep tools such as rakes, shovels and water nearby if they decide to burn, and to avoid burning on windy days.

“If the fire does get out of control they should call 911 immediately to get fire resources started,” said Sheffer.

It is advised to follow burning regulations for the area, that can be found at https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/ForestFire/restrictions.asp

Assisting Agencies

The Arena Fire Department assisted the DNR in extinguishing the Reimann Road fire.

Arena Fire Chief Todd Pinkham said a variety of factors could lead to elevated fire risk recently, including a lack of precipitation along with low humidity rates, and wind.

“This is keeping the fuels (grass, leaves, brush) dry and highly combustible. In recent years we’ve had very active springs as far as precipitation goes so we haven’t had these extended periods of elevated fire risk,” said Pinkham.

While in the case of the Reimann Road fire it was a permitted, prescribed burn that became uncontrolled, Pinkham expressed that controlled fires can be beneficial.

“A controlled burn when done properly and effectively is one of the greatest tools for reducing the risk of a wildland fire, but like anything else if done improperly it can pose a serious threat to other properties and structures,” said Pinkham.

Pinkham echoed the need to call 911 immediately if controlled fires become uncontrolled.

“Don’t wait to call 911. If things are starting to go wrong with a burn don’t wait to call. These fires can spread rapidly so the sooner you get help on the way the better.”