ONALASKA, Wisconsin (WXOW) – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is putting La Crosse County at a "very high" risk of fire dangers, with the danger in counties to the South and North of our area being labeled as "extreme."
Chief Don Dominick, of the Onalaska Fire Department, said the dry conditions outside pose an increased risk for grass fires.
Dominick said those fires can be started by lightning or fallen power lines – as well as carelessness in the form of recreational burning or people tampering with matches or fireworks.
He added that puts everyone at risk of the repercussions.
"On days like today, for firefighters to be out in this heat, it's a lot of work," Dominick said. "It's labor intensive and I'm concerned about their health, safety and welfare as well."
Dominick said the topography of Onalaska and the surrounding communities also makes battling grass fires difficult.
"We can't take fire trucks off the road very far," he said, "and we can't go up and down the bluffs on a fire truck."
"So firefighters are given at best 5 gallons of water, which they carry on their back, and they walk from the water source to wherever the fire is," Dominick said. "Then they have to carry it back while it's empty, fill it up, and then head back again."
A burn ban remains in effect for the city of La Crosse and the bulk of the county.
Dominick said Onalaska's city ordinance prohibits recreational burning, which is why Onalaska has not issued a formal ban.
He added that residents who live in the areas of the Town of Onalaska and Town of Medary that are covered by his department have to apply for permits before they can engage in burning of any kind.
But Dominick said no permits are being issued due to the our area's current rating on the National Weather Service's "Haines Index."
The index takes into consideration both the dryness of the air, as well as the air's stability, defined as "the tendency for vertical air motion in an air mass," in determining the likelihood of fires rapidly spreading and growing.
An unstable atmosphere promotes the upward movement of air currents, and Dominick said that coupled with dry air has put our area at a Haines index of six – the highest rating attainable on the two to six number scale.
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