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DNR: Wis. wildfire started in logging operations area

Published On: May 14 2013 10:59:31 PM CDT
Updated On: May 17 2013 09:36:34 AM CDT

Wisconsin DNR

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Wis. -

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says the "massive" wildfire that burned 8, 131 acres in northwestern Wisconsin started in an area where workers were doing logging operations.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says the operator of the logging equipment noticed smoke coming from below the cutting head of the machine while harvesting timber around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"The operator got out of the machine and made a concerted effort to extinguish the fire using a fire extinguisher located in the cab of the harvester," said Gary Bibow, Fire Law Enforcement Specialist. "Another operator on the crew immediately called 911 and DNR resources were on scene in less than 10 minutes."

An investigation shows that the fire was not started intentionally. The DNR and the Douglas County District Attorney have recommended that no criminal charges be filed.

It's the biggest wildfire to hit the state since 2005, according to the Wisconsin DNR. Firefighters were able to contain the massive blaze early Thursday morning.

It was first reported southwest of the Township of Barnes in Douglas County late Tuesday afternoon. Members of 17 local, state and federal fire crews and several DNR conservation wardens aworked to put out the wildfire. The DNR says it was roughly six miles long and about a mile wide at the widest point Tuesday night.

"Now with hot, dry and windy conditions forecast for today, we are asking people to be extremely careful so no more destructive fires are started," DNR incident commander Larry Gladowski said Wednesday.

SLIDESHOW: Pictures from Douglas County wildfire

Forty-seven structures were lost in the wildfire, including 17 homes. Firefighters were able to save 77 other buildings, including 42 houses. Crews used air tankers and scoop planes from Wisconsin and Minnesota to drop water to battle the blaze.

Governor Scott Walker declared a state of emergency and surveyed the damage on Thursday.

Conservation wardens went door-to-door to alert area homeowners of the fire danger. Residents were evacuated from the Loon Lake, Sand Lake, Murray Lake Potowatomi Estates, Rock Lake, Beauregard Lake, Catherina Lake, Ellison Lake and the Village of Barnes. A portion of the fire crossed state Highway 27, which caused the evacuation of Potowatomi Village.

The American Red Cross and state emergency management officials are helping evacuees. An information line (715-376-4185) has been set up at the fire command center where evacuees can get up-to-date information on damage to structures.

The Wisconsin DNR says the last major forest fire in northern Wisconsin, called the Oak Lake Fire, occurred April 22, 1980 and consumed 11,418 acres of forest. The Cottonville Fire, in central Wisconsin, started May 5, 2005, burning 3,410 acres.

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