A massive wildfire in Douglas and Bayfield counties this week burnt more than 8,000 acres and 47 structures including 17 homes. The Germann Road fire, while the largest, was just one of more than 60 wildfires in DNR protection areas of the state this week. Fire danger levels remain very high or high statewide and the DNR has suspended all burning permits until further notice. Fire officials are urging people to use extreme caution with any sources of ignition, such as smoking material, hot engines or exhaust systems on vehicles. Dispose of ash from stoves or grills in fire-proof covered containers.
Nearly all lakes in the state were ice-free by last weekend, with only a few of the large and deep-water lakes still having some ice cover, but even that should be cone by this weekend. Water levels on rivers remain very high in many areas but others are beginning to drop. Some sandbars are beginning to reappear along the lower Wisconsin River, but the river levels are still high and only experienced canoeists and kayakers should be on the water. Lake Michigan water temperatures at Rock Island State Park off the tip of Door County were only at 40 degrees.
Currently most Northwoods lakes have water temperatures in the mid to upper 40-degree range, but look for that to climb into the 50s with the warm weather predicted for the next few days. Even though most anglers had open water for the second weekend of the fishing season, the constantly changing weather made for some very erratic fishing success. A few anglers found some concentrations of walleye and reported some nice catches of fish.
The Wolf River was still giving up a few walleyes to those anglers putting in their time, but the white bass run has been spotty so far. Anglers reported catching muskies and largemouth and smallmouth bass on Waukesha County lakes.
Bass fishing was great this week off Door County, with many anglers participating in a bass tournament last weekend and more preparing for another tournament out of Sturgeon Bay this weekend. Bass were being caught on both the Green Bay and lake sides with anglers reporting success from piers and boats on a variety of bait. Yellow perch fishing opens May 20 on Green Bay and its tributaries.
High waves made for rough fishing on Lake Michigan this week. Those who ventured out reported some brown trout and also some good coho fishing, especially out of the Kenosha harbor. A few steelhead anglers are still fishing Lake Michigan tributaries, but action has slowed considerably.
With the weather finally warmed up it is looking like the last time period may offer the best hunting of the spring turkey season, with more birds than ever gobbling and strutting in fields. The spring season closes May 21.
Many species of young wildlife are being spotted including whitetail deer fawns, Canada geese goslings, cottontails and woodcock. A reminder to residents that young wildlife observed on their own are often not abandoned, but left there to await the mother’s return from feeding. Leave them along and their mothers will return to care for them.
Warblers have been slow to arrive in the north but southeastern Wisconsin north to Green Bay reported excellent numbers this week, with 20-plus species being found regularly. American toads, leopard frogs, and gray tree frogs are calling wildly. Morel mushrooms s are beginning to appear but still in low numbers. The Muscoda Morel Festival is this weekend.
In the past week, more than 60 wildfires burned in DNR protection areas around the state, including a massive forest fire in Douglas County. The main causes were debris burning and equipment. Fire danger has been high to very high across the state, resulting in the suspension of DNR burning permits and the issuance of a Red Flag Warning in Florence and Marinette counties Wednesday. Stay aware of the current fire danger for your area by checking the DNR website: dnr.wi.gov (search fire danger).
Firewise Tip: Are there any branches close to power lines on your property? Ask the power company to clear them.
Cumberland Dispatch Group responded to seven wildland fires for the week which burned a total of 8.5 acres. Of note, six structures were saved due to quick actions by arriving initial attack units. Two structures were lost, one of which was a pole shed containing an entire collection of carnival rides and equipment. Fire causes contained a higher percentage of miscellaneous outdoor activity such as welding or grinding activities and ash disposal, which is reflective of the dry conditions. Staff remains stretched thin as resources are still committed to the Germann Fire in Douglas County.
Brule Dispatch Group – A massive forest fire burned 8,131 acres in Douglas County. Named the Germann Road Fire, it consumed 47 structures, including 17 homes. An additional 77 structures were threatened by the fire, yet ultimately saved with firefighter assistance. Evacuations occurred throughout area. The partnership effort to contain this fire has been incredible. Assistance came in the form of people, equipment, and aircraft from 37 fire departments, Minnesota DNR, Michigan DNR, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, US Forest Service, state patrol, sheriff’s departments, Department of Transportation, state and county emergency management, Red Cross, the Drummond High School and likely many others. DNR fire control staff from other dispatch groups were moved to assist in fire suppression and incident command efforts. The fire was contained at 9 p.m. Wednesday night. Crews will continue for days to put out hotspots and mop up the burned area. No injuries have been reported. The cause of the fire was determined to be logging equipment. Gov. Scott Walker is visiting the area Thursday and will be holding a press conference. A web site was established for the media and public wishing to keep informed about the fire: dnr.wi.gov (keyword “Germann Road Fire”).
Park Falls Dispatch – Two Taylor County fires were determined to be intentionally set, burning 17 acres and 11 acres. A 9-acre Price County wildfire was caused when a debris/trash pile that had been burned when there was snow on the ground reignited.
Woodruff Dispatch Group – Six wildfires burned three acres in the past week.
Peshtigo Dispatch Group – Eleven wildfires burned over eight acres in the past week. Heightened fire weather on Wednesday called for a Red Flag Warning in Florence and Marinette counties.
Black River Falls Dispatch Group – In the last week, fire staff responded to seven wildfires totaling just over 5 acres. Fire causes varied but included debris burning, equipment and even a structure fire. A sawmill caught fire in Chippewa County and caused four separate wildfires which totaled around 3 acres. Suppression was time-consuming due to the windy conditions and difficult access.
Wisconsin Rapids Dispatch Group – In the last week, fire control staff responded to nine fires totaling about 17 acres. The largest wildfire was a 14-acre fire in Adams County. Significant fire behavior occurred during the evening hours when we normally expect fire behavior to moderate. That’s a testament to the dangerous fire conditions we’ve seen over the last several days.
Dodgeville Dispatch Group – Nine wildfires burned four acres this past week.
Statewide Birding Report
Mid-May is the time of year all bird watchers live for and this year is no exception. Backyard birders are now hosting a rainbow of colors thanks to the return of indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, ruby-throated hummingbirds all the way north to Lake Superior. Warblers have been slow to arrive in the north but southeastern Wisconsin north to Green Bay reported excellent numbers this week, with 20-plus species being found regularly. Sparrow diversity in the north is excellent as 10-plus species can be found. With lakes in Canada still locked up in ice, waterfowl remain in good numbers, including above average numbers of both common and red-throated loons, as well as horned, eared, and red-necked grebes. Shorebird migration has begun in earnest. American avocet,whimbrel, and both godwits have been seen recently, in addition to more yellowlegs, dowitchers, and “peeps” such as least sandpipers. Check coastal beaches, flooded fields, and shallow waters of managed wildlife areas in the weeks ahead. Nine Springs in Madison and Highway 49 in Horicon are two places that look especially promising. Rarities spotted this week include Mississippi kite in Douglas County, northern mockingbirds and white-eyed vireos in multiple locations, 6,000-plus long-tailed ducks on Green Bay, and several western tanagers statewide. As always, please report your sightings at ebird.org/wi to help track the migration and better conserve our bird populations. – Ryan Brady, Bureau of Wildlife Management research scientist, Ashland
This yellow warbler was photographed by Catherine Khalar of the Brule River State Forest. Like many other DNR forestry and law enforcement staff, Khalar was helping with the Germann Road fire response. As a result we have few reports this week from Northern Wisconsin.
Catherine Khalar Photo