LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - Twice as many fires are reported on the fourth of July than any other day of the year. Now, abnormally dry and hot conditions are leading to enhanced fire danger across the region.
The Wisconsin DNR has placed the Coulee region under a "High" to "Very High" fire risk. Under these conditions fires can start easily and spread rapidly. Onalaska Fire Chief, Don Dominick, says current conditions are similar to a tinderbox. "When you start a fire you always use little pieces of paper or small pieces of wood. What we have now is dried, smaller pieces of wood."
Since mid May, the region has seen a 2-4 inch deficit in rain. And the extreme heat since last week has only made matters worse. This makes everything from fireworks to charcoal a potential hazard. "If you take a look at something that people feel is not very harmful, take a look at the tip of a sparkler, at 1200 degrees Fahrenheit. Glass melts at 900. So what you have there is the potential for a high amount of heat in a very small area."
Emergency burn restrictions are in effect in 11 counties across Wisconsin, including Crawford and Richland counties. The City of La Crosse, Stoddard and Bergen are currently under burning bans that prohibit all fireworks and burn piles. This includes campfires outside of developed camping areas, and restrictions on grill use. Hot and dry conditions are expected through the end of the week and fire bans will remain in effect until conditions improve substantially.
For those not under burning restrictions, extra care should be taken to keep fires in their designated areas. With such dry conditions, Onalaska Fire Chief, Don Dominick, says even seemingly harmless activities can still have serious consequences. "Put a barrier in there well enough that whatever's around your campfire, barbeque grill doesn't become a wick to draw that fire to another big fuel load."
Fireworks are also a big concern causing 40% of the fires reported on Independence Day. But that doesn't mean you can't see fireworks on the fourth. "Best advice would be that if you'd like to see fireworks, go where there's a licensed professional."