WOODRUFF, Wis. — Fire season is upon us and weather conditions are shaping up to result in increased wildfire activity.
During the past week, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported 23 wildfires. As a result, fire control officials urge those planning to burn in the outdoors this spring to assess the weather and obtain proper burn permits prior to lighting any fire.
“Fire season arrives shortly after the snow-cover disappears. It doesn’t take more than a couple of days for things to dry out and for the fire danger quickly elevate, especially this time of year,” said Catherine Koele, DNR wildfire prevention specialist.
Weather is the single most important factor influencing how fires start and spread. Temperature, wind, humidity and precipitation are the key weather components that determine the daily fire danger. Wildfires can happen just about any time of the year, but history has shown that spring brings Wisconsin’s highest fire occurrence.
Throughout the spring, the DNR monitors the weather and fuel conditions daily. This influences the fire danger, most often communicated on Smokey Bear fire danger adjective level signs. Fire danger signs levels range from Low to Extreme.
“The signs describe the potential for a fire to start and spread and the intensity at which a fire will burn in the wildland,” said Koele. “Our hope is that the public will take note of these signs, check our website or hotline and adapt their behavior and act responsibly.”
“With the warmer weather, people are outside doing clean-up around their yards, collecting limbs, brush and other yard debris and opting for burning as a means of disposal. The best way to prevent a wildfire is to get a burning permit and follow the rules,” Koele said.
Research has shown that more than 75 percent of all debris-burning caused wildfires in Wisconsin are caused by people who failed to obtain a proper burning permit. The remainder of those debris-caused fires resulted from those who had a permit, but neglected to follow the rules outlined on the permit. Anyone found responsible for causing a wildfire is liable for all suppression costs and potentially any damages.
Obtaining a DNR burning permit is easy, fast and free and more information can be found at DNR.wi.gov by searching “burning permit.” For the average customer, it takes less than two minutes to go online and apply. It’s good for the calendar year and the permit can be instantly emailed to the customer’s inbox.
In DNR Protection Areas, permit holders are authorized to burn vegetative materials, such as leaves, brush and pine needles. Permits are designed so that burning is done safely with minimal wildfire risk. Some areas of the state are not regulated by the DNR, so it’s important to check with local municipal or fire department officials for any ordinances or other burning restrictions.
Burning debris should always be the last alternative. Always consider alternatives such as composting, recycling or leaving leaf and woody debris in the woods for wildlife habitat. Not only can burning cause a wildfire, it also adds pollutants to the air.
Burning trash in Wisconsin is illegal. It is also illegal to burn recyclable materials such as glass, plastic, metal containers and clean paper, as well as agricultural and horticultural plastics such as silage film, haylage bags, bale wrap, woven tarps and nursery pots and trays. If these materials cannot be recycled, they should go to a landfill.
Customers can obtain DNR permits online by calling 1-888-WIS-BURN from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. They may also visit their local ranger station or emergency fire warden to receive permits. Once an individual has a burning permit, he or she must call or go online after 11 a.m. on the day of the planned burn to check daily fire restrictions to hear the legal burning hours and size limitations or if burning has been suspended for the day.
“There are only about a dozen or so days out of the year when we recommend holding off or restrict outdoor burning. The key is identifying those critical days and holding off until conditions improve,” said Koele. “A good rule of thumb to follow is to wait until things are green and lush or ideally, hold off until next winter when the ground is snow-covered.”