GORDON, WI (WI DNR) - Department of Natural Resources law enforcement officials today identified the owner of the land where the Douglas County wildfire, also known as the Germann Road Fire, originated as well as the logging operation responsible for unintentionally igniting the fire.
The massive wildfire, that burned about 8,000 acres, started Tuesday around 2:30 p.m. It burned a swath more than 9 miles long and 1.5-miles wide in the townships of Gordon and Highway before being 100 percent contained as of 9 p.m. Wednesday. Forty-seven structures were lost, including 17 homes.
DNR law enforcement officials have confirmed that the fire was caused by equipment associated with logging operations. A logging crew, running a Timberjack 840 feller/buncher, was harvesting timber on industrial timber lands owned by Lyme St. Croix Forest Company LLC. These lands are managed by Steigerwaldt Land Services, Inc.
An operator from Ray Duerr Logging, LLC was conducting routine timber harvesting operations and noticed smoke coming from below the cutting head of the machine. According to the fire investigation, “the fire started underneath the head of the cutting device.” Gary Bibow, DNR Fire Law Enforcement Specialist, said investigators “were able to rule out all the other possible fire causes based on the evidence we found. And, there was no indication of the saw coming in contact with a rock or that the equipment appeared to be faulty.”
The area surrounding the source of ignition indicates the fire progressed quickly after the fire started. “Fine grasses, abundant woody debris coupled with dense jack pine with low hanging branches caused the fire to start out as a surface fire and quickly move to the tree tops. It was only a matter of minutes before it hit the crowns, and it was off and running,” Bibow said.
The responsible party made a concerted effort to extinguish the fire using a fire extinguisher located in the cab of the harvester and immediately called 911. Bibow said: “The entire logging crew stayed on scene. They have been extremely cooperative throughout this entire process.”
A thorough investigation has demonstrated that no negligence was involved and there was no intentional setting of fire to the land. The department recommends not pursuing criminal charges based on the investigation.
The origin of the fire is just southwest of the intersection of Germann Road and Doetsch Lane in the Township of Gordon. Due to southwest winds, the fire progressed in a northeasterly direction. At around 8 p.m. the night of the fire, the winds shifted from the north, pushing the fire towards several lakes where several evacuations took place and the majority of the structures were lost.
DNR fire control officials flew over the fire yesterday with infrared photographic technology to determine where any remaining hot spots are located. Fire crews will continue to suppress the hot spots and monitor the fire perimeter over the coming days. Scattered rainfall expected over the weekend will greatly assist in the mop-op operations.