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Why Wisconsin Is Seeing 3 Times More Wildfires This Spring

Dry conditions after the snow melts in spring can take a single spark and turn it into a dangerous wildfire.
Vladislav Gudovskiy
Dry conditions after the snow melts in spring can take a single spark and turn it into a dangerous wildfire.

As days begin to last longer and the snow melts away, spring can be felt all across Wisconsin. But spring isn’t just the season of new life in the state, it is also wildfire season. This year, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says the conditions for wildfires are unusually high and have already led to three times the expected number of reported fires.

Catherine Koele works in forest fire protection for the state DNR. She says while fires are more common in rural areas, a recent fire just outside of Milwaukee proved fires can start anywhere there isn’t concrete.

“It’s not very common you see a lot of fires outside of Milwaukee and that was a low-land but kind of grassy area and a spark along with the conditions that we had allowed a fire to get a good run and threaten some structures,” she says.

Koele says the increase in fires is partially due to the early loss in snow cover in all parts of the state.

“You’ll probably see that kinda settle down as vegetation greens up throughout the year,” she says. “But it does definitely seem more widespread and a lot more active just because we did go snow-free statewide.”

The vast majority of wildfires — 98%, according to Koele, are started by people, which means the DNR is focused on educating people on the dos and don’ts when it comes to protecting natural lands from fires. Especially this spring, as more Wisconsinites than ever are heading outside and spending time in nature.

“Doing things like campfires and fireworks, and recreational vehicles and those can cause wildfires as well, certainly it’s really important to know what that fire danger is before conducting any sort of activity that can cause a spark,” she says.

If a fire has started, Koele says call 911 immediately as fires can be unpredictable and spread quickly so trying to put them out can be extremely dangerous.

For people who live in areas that may be at higher risk for wildfires, she says monitoring local news and social media are great ways to stay up to date on any possible fires.

Koele recommends making a plan ahead of time in case a fire does start. “Have a place to go, have your bags packed, have some of those, you know, essentials, you know your pills and your purse, things like that. Be ready to move if there is smoke in the air,” she says.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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