WISCONSIN — Gov. Tony Evers has declared a state of emergency in response to elevated wildfire conditions in the state.
On Monday, Evers signed Executive Order #110. So far in 2021, there have been more than 320 wildfires reported in Wisconsin, burning more than 1,400 acres, Evers said.
"With nearly the entire state experiencing high or very high fire risk, protecting Wisconsinites from the destructive dangers of wildfires is a top priority,” Evers said. “The ability of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to have all available resources ready to be quickly dispatched is a critical element in keeping fires small and achieving swift containment.”
The DNR has requested wildfire suppression support from the Wisconsin National Guard, Evers said.
DNR data shows fires have burned nearly 1,500 acres statewide, and more than 1,600 acres burned in all of 2020.
"This year was a little different," said DNR Fire Suppression Specialist Catherine Koele. "With the lack of snow that we had over the winter, and when the snow cover disappeared all at the same time, it definitely brought on some challenges. So kind of the unique thing for this year, so we're about two weeks ahead of schedule. And it sounds like green-up might be starting, and with the rain coming in, we're hoping that will accelerate things."
Koele says 98 percent of the state's fires are caused by people, so everyone needs to be extra careful. She said many fires in Wisconsin are one to two acres in size and burn quickly, but she also says it's not uncommon to have fires burn hundreds of acres.
The executive order will mobilize the Army National Guard's Blackhawk helicopters to the areas of most need. It will also direct all state agencies to assist in wildfire prevention, response, and recovery.
Officials said more than 60 agencies worked for at least nine hours on the flames in the swampland between Pilgrim and Lannon Roads in Menomonee Falls on Friday. No one was hurt and nothing was damaged.
"We'll chalk this up as a win," said Menomonee Falls Fire Chief Gerard Washington. "There were no structures lost, no loss of life, and very rarely do you win against Mother Nature."
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. He said dry conditions and high winds made fighting the flames especially challenging.
"It shifted on us several times during the fire fight," Chief Washington said. "So just as we believed we had one area knocked down, put out, the wind would flare the flames up again and we were back at it."
Flames came within several hundred yards of homes in a subdivision off Pilgrim Road. Officials said about ten homes were evacuated as a precaution.
Alan Siegel said he's thankful the firefighters worked so hard to keep them safe. He watched as flames from the marsh area came closer and closer.
"Just hoping it would stay on that side of the road," Siegel said.
"We do at times become complacent as society, you know, it won't happen to me," Chief Washington said. "And as I often say, we have to be pessimistic, we have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. And this is what we prepare for."
Officials say do not fly your drones over fire because it makes the firefighting process more difficult.
Read the full order here.