TOWN OF GORDON, Wis. — Firefighters brought the largest wildfire to hit northern Wisconsin in decades under control todayand planned to spend the day reworking lines containing the 9,000-acre fire and tackling hot spots, a Department of Natural Resources spokesman said.
The fire that began Tuesday destroyed 17 homes and 30 other structures in Douglas and Bayfield counties. Gov. Scott Walker was expected to tour areas damaged by the blaze early today.
At least 60 people evacuated their homes, with a couple of dozen spending Tuesday night at a high school that served as a shelter in Drummond. No one was injured in the blaze. Some residents have been able to return home and all public roads in the area were re-opened overnight, said Robert Manwell, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources.
Authorities are investigating whether logging operations may have sparked the fire that started near Simms Lake in Douglas County, 40 miles southeast of Duluth, Minn. DNR spokeswoman Catherine Koele said investigators would work today to pinpoint the cause of the fire. Winds were expected to be calmer, but Koele expressed concern about the dry conditions.
“We are hoping we will get some precipitation over the weekend,” she said.
The Department of Natural Resources suspended all burning permits statewide Wednesday and issued red flag warnings for Florence and Marinette counties. Red flag warnings indicate a high risk of fire. The warnings had not been updated early today.
Walker has declared a state of emergency in Douglas and Bayfield counties, which makes the Wisconsin National Guard available for recovery efforts.
The National Guard sent two Black Hawk helicopters Wednesday to help fight the fire. Two Canadian “waterbombers,” which are fixed-wing aircraft, also came to the aid of ground crews from 19 fire departments, the DNR said.
The last major forest fire in northern Wisconsin happened on April 22, 1980, and consumed nearly 11,500 acres of forest. A central Wisconsin fire in May 2005 burned more than 3,400 acres.