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Gov. Tony Evers declares emergency amid outbreak of wildfires
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Gov. Tony Evers declares emergency amid outbreak of wildfires

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In the midst of a statewide health emergency, Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday declared a state of emergency to respond to elevated wildfire conditions.

The executive order directs state agencies, including the Wisconsin National Guard, to provide people and other resources to help with emergency response and recovery, as well as wildfire prevention.

Catherine Koele, state wildfire prevention specialist for the Department of Natural Resources, said the order will allow the DNR to use National Guard Black Hawk helicopters to drop water and fire retardant.

“Any more resources we can get our hands on will be really beneficial,” Koele said.

There have been more than 150 wildfires this year — including 11 in the past two days — in areas under DNR protection. For comparison, there were 174 fires reported in all of 2019.

The largest was a 243-acre grass fire Saturday in Juneau County that required the use of aircraft, as well as local fire departments.

Warm temperatures combined with low humidity and high winds have made for high fire danger across most of the state, with nine counties in the south and southwest under very high danger conditions as of Tuesday.

Koele said many seasonal residents who showed up at their cabins or vacation properties during the statewide “safer at home” order have been burning brush without checking local restrictions.

According to the DNR, the burning debris is the leading cause of the wildfires.

The agency suspended all burning permits and prescribed burns on March 27 as a result of the COVID-19 health emergency. Campfires for cooking or warmth are allowed but discouraged.

“It’s really a critical time this week,” Koele said. “Avoid burning until things green up.”


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