Wisconsin wildfire started by logging operations destroys 17 homes

From the Associated Press:

MADISON — Prosecutors announced Thursday they won’t file charges against loggers whose equipment apparently started a massive wildfire in northwestern Wisconsin, concluding there was no criminal intent or negligence.

The fire began Tuesday afternoon in the woods near Simms Lake in Douglas County, about 40 miles southeast of Duluth, Minn. It consumed 8,131 acres, destroyed 17 homes and forced dozens of people to evacuate before firefighters contained it late Wednesday evening. No injuries have been reported.

The state Department of Natural Resources released a statement Thursday saying logging equipment started the fire.

A logger was operating a large machine similar to an end loader with a circular saw that cuts groups of trees, DNR Fire Law Enforcement Specialist Gary Bibow said. The operator noticed smoke coming from under the cutting head, jumped out of the cab and saw the grass under the machine was burning.

The operator nearly had extinguished the fire when it leaped 40 yards into the trees and raced out of control, Bibow said.

“He thought he had it out, and it took off,” Bibow said. “It climbed into the top of the trees.”

Another member of the logger’s crew immediately called 911, according to the DNR’s statement.

It’s still unclear whether the machine caught fire or created sparks as it was cutting, DNR spokeswoman Catherine Koele said. Neither she nor Bibow knew the name of the loggers’ company.

The DNR said in its statement that Douglas County prosecutors had decided there was no criminal intent or negligence and they had declined to issue any charges.

Douglas County Assistant District Attorney Ruth Kressel said in an email to The Associated Press nothing suggests the fire was started intentionally.

“We realize how tragic this fire has been and the devastation to homes, buildings and to our north woods, but … the origin and cause of the fire lack the requisite intent for criminal charges,” she said.

The fire was one of the worst to strike northern Wisconsin in three decades.

8 thoughts on “Wisconsin wildfire started by logging operations destroys 17 homes”

  1. And, how many wildfires are started by sightseers and hikers?? Correlation is not causation.

    Additionally, logging operators working on Forest Service lands are required to have onsite fire suppression equipment and supplies, as well as “fire patrols” during risky fire weather. Additionally, since the Forest Service knows about the risk of using feller-bunchers, they require special fire suppression measures especially for such machines.

    • And how many fires are stated by a Forest Service employee burning a letter from their estranged husband? Answer: Hayman Fire.

      And how many wildfires are started by former volunteers with local fire departments who have turned into arsonist? Right now, in the Helena, MT area the answer to that would be 5 fires.

      Also in Montana, right now the Rumsey Gulch Fire, which destroyed 5 homes, is burning in “light logging slash.”

      Oh, and how many wildfires are started by a timber sale lawsuit from a conservation group? The answer would be none, even though us enviros often get the blame.

      But in the case of the fire in my homestate of Wisconsin, the fire started at a logging operation and went on to burn 8000 acres and 17 homes. I’m not so much drawing any correlation, but just making a factual statement.

      • Yet another reason to have forests that are resilient to wildfires, no matter how they start! This is one major issue that the pro-fire, anti-management people like to gloss over. You cannot exclude man-caused wildfires as destructive forces impacting our National Forests.

        • And how do we create “forests that are resilient to wildfires?” Especially in the case of fire-dependent forests? I also fail to see how someone can be “pro-fire” any more than they can be “pro-rain” or “pro-sunshine.” And how being “pro-fire” makes one “pro-management” is a real mystery to me too. Oh well, Larry.

          • Matt: We already know how to make forests resilient to fire — I’m not sure that even one of the 80,000+ acres of reforestation contracts my crews performed between 1969 and 1990 has been subjected to wildfire during those or subsequent years. In the interim, several thousand of those planted and/or precommercially thinned acres have been logged and replanted according to legal standards.

            Are you saying these are “fire dependent forests?” And, if so, does it make more sense for those fires to be started by people under reasonable circumstances, or via wildfire by accident, arson and lightning?

            Personally, I like fire, rain, and sunshine — and am “pro” all three! Also, I’m pro-active management of our public lands.

          • People who are “pro-fire” believe that “everything will be just fine as long as we let nature take its course”, as well as the mantra that “fire is natural and beneficial”. Indeed, there is little that can be done in some areas, with steep ground having to suffer whatever happens to it, whether it is an auto accident, an arsonist or a lightning strike. The ignition will often find ample fuels and few barriers.

            Yes, in some areas there are plenty of things that can be done to make forests more resilient to drought, bark beetles AND wildfires. Once again, we should be adjusting tree densities to match annual rainfall totals, adjusting species compositions to more natural fire-resistant numbers, and using all-aged strategies, instead of even-aged management. You cannot “preserve and burn” to achieve those qualities, Matt. (At least on a reasonable timescale)

            Indians reined-in those invasive fire-dependent species by using expert prescribed fires. While we should be taking cues from them, our overstocked forests aren’t ready for “free-range fire”, yet. Many areas will require fuels reductions, first.

  2. I realize accidents will happen but I am wondering where the DNR draws the line between accident and negligence? My heart goes out to those who lost their homes.

  3. Even the Tongass (as a coastal temperate rainforest) occasionally faces high fire threat conditions. The response by the USFS, after having learned that logging activities (as causation) are correlated with unintentional forest fires, has been to curtail or shut down logging operations during periods of high or extreme fire threat conditions.

    While there may have not been “criminal intent” by the regulated, there seems to be a strong case for demonstrated negligence by the regulators, who frame it as if they had no role in this incident.


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