Law enforcement officials confirmed the massive wildfire that destroyed 8,131 acres in Bayfield and Douglas Counties started from a logging crew harvesting timber on industrial timber lands at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Governor Scott Walker declared a state of emergency and surveyed the damage of "The Germann Road Fire" Thursday afternoon in Gordon, Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says the operator of the logging equipment noticed smoke coming from below the cutting head of the machine while harvesting timber.
"The operator got out of the machine and made a concerted effort to extinguish the fire using a fire extinguisher located in the cab of the harvester," said Gary Bibow, Fire Law Enforcement Specialist. "Another operator on the crew immediately called 911 and DNR resources were on scene in less than 10 minutes."
SLIDESHOW: Pictures from Douglas County wildfire
The DNR announced Thursday morning that firefighters had contained the blaze. After a thorough investigation, it was determined that there was no negligence involved and there was no intential setting of fire to the land. The DNR and the Douglas County District Attorney have recommended that no criminal charges be filed.
As of Thursday morning, 47 structures were destroyed, including 17 homes. Firefighters were able to save 77 other buildings, including 42 houses. "The Germann Road Fire" is the largest in Wisconsin since the Oak Lake Fire burned over 11,400 acres in Washburn County on April 22, 1980.
"The damage we've seen today is widespread, and many families have lost their homes or other property," Governor Walker said. "To the victims of this fire, I want you to know that the State of Wisconsin stands with you, and I am directing our state agencies to do everything they can to help you recover and rebuild during this difficult time. I thank our first responders and all those involved in the coordinated effort to contain this fire."
Governor Walker is directing state agencies to help residents in the following ways:
- The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority will provide access to funding for temporary housing assistance for the affected residents from the fire.
- The Office of Commissioner of Insurance will make available assistance for property owners filing claims who have been impacted by the fire. Homeowners can contact the OCI helpline for assistance with their homeowners insurance coverage. They can visit www.OCI.wi.gov or call 1-800-236-8517.
- The Department of Administration will make emergency funds available to eligible residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed. Also, funding for businesses impacted by the fire will be made available to those who are eligible.
- The Department of Health Services has been in contact with local health departments to provide assistance. As well, they will be working with DNR on air quality concerns and will continue to work with other state and local partners to provide public health assistance.
- The Department of Natural Resources has established a hotline which residents impacted by the fire can learn about the status of their homes and property. The phone number, 715-376-4185, will connect residents directly to Incident Command where staff are prepared to help update them regarding the status of buildings on their property.
- The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection will provide assistance to any residents with livestock or pets impacted by the fire and regional experts with crop distribution assistance as well.
An information line (715-376-4185) has been set up at the fire command center where evacuees can get up-to-date information on damage to structures. The information line was staffed Wednesday until 10:30 p.m. and reopened at 8 a.m. on Thursday. The DNR says residents who want to visit thrie property must be escorted. Thoes visits can be arranged by calling the hotline.