Officials and homeowners join for large-scale wildfire exercise

Discussion in 'Outdoor News' started by Wisconsin DNR News, Sep 12, 2015.

  1. By Northwest Region September 12, 2015

    Contact(s): Michael Hillstrom, DNR public information officer, 715-459-1371; Ed Culhane, DNR communications, 715-781-1683

    AUGUSTA, WI - Wildfire crews from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources joined forces today with fire departments, law enforcement officials, local authorities and more than 165 homeowners to train and prepare for a large-scale forest fire.

    The massive exercise - covering thousands of acres in the town of Bridge Creek - was designed to provide 17 municipal fire departments, DNR forestry crews, local officials, state troopers, conservation wardens and Eau Claire County Emergency Management with critically important tactical experience.

    "In a real situation, we would have all these agencies coming together," said DNR incident commander Larry Whaley, who described today's mock fire as a "running crown fire" racing with the wind across the tree tops, presenting a dangerous and difficult situation for firefighters.

    The drill - called "Augusta Mock Fire" - envisioned a blaze that ignited near Nehring Road, just northwest of the city of Augusta and then quickly spread northeast. The mock fire burned through forested county and state lands as well as private properties before reaching the south shore of Lake Eau Claire to the north. The simulated wildfire eventually grew to 5,200 acres and "threatened" 235 residences and 385 secondary structures.

    "We're hoping something like this never occurs here," Whaley said, "but if it does, we will be much better prepared. When the real pagers go off, we will be able to react more quickly."

    Drills of this size occur in the region every seven or eight years, but it has been 21 years since the last large-scale wildfire drill in Eau Claire County, said Jack Running, Township Fire Department chief, whose crews protect five towns around Eau Claire.

    "Some of our younger firefighters weren't even born back then," Running said. "They've been getting DNR training in the classroom, but they want and need this kind of hands-on training in the field."

    This drill was also an educational experience for participating homeowners, Running said, both in learning "firewise" landscaping but also in seeing firsthand how much room a fire truck needs to access a property.

    Each year approximately 4,000 wildfires occur in Wisconsin. Most are small, but large-scale fires do occur. The most recent was the Germann Road Fire on May 14, 2013, which burned 7,500 acres in northwest Wisconsin. Many areas of central and western Wisconsin, including the town of Bridge Creek, have similar forests and could face a similar risk.

    Tom Hurley, emergency management coordinator for Eau Claire County, said organizers of the drill were heartened by the fact that 167 homeowners, 72 percent of all those contacted, agreed to participate in the drill and to allow firefighters onto their properties.

    "This is a rare opportunity for this community to interact with emergency responders without it being a real event," Hurley said. "Exercises like this are invaluable."

    Last Revised: Saturday, September 12, 2015