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Wisconsin in state of emergency for wildfire risks; over 1,400 acres already burned

With more than 300 reported fires this year, an executive order signed by Gov. Tony Evers would allow the National Guard to mobilize to fight the blazes.
Wisconsin DNR fire crews fight a wildfire in Menomonee Falls that burned nearly 450 acres of marshland on Friday, and has since been contained.
Wisconsin fire crews fight a wildfire in Menomonee Falls that burned nearly 450 acres of marshland Friday and has since been contained.Marc Sass / Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Wisconsin was in a state of emergency Monday over increased wildfire risk, with more than 300 blazes having already been reported this year.

More than 1,400 acres have been burned in the state, and experts expect a longer-than-usual fire season because of the early melting of snow, Gov. Tony Evers said. Incoming weather conditions, such as gusty winds and low humidity levels, are also more conducive to wildfire spread.

"With nearly the entire state experiencing high or very high fire risk, protecting Wisconsinites from the destructive dangers of wildfires is a top priority," Evers said.

Spring wildfire season in Wisconsin typically runs through the end of May, the governor's office said.

The executive order, which Evers signed Monday, allows the National Guard to mobilize with the state's Department of Natural Resources, which handles wildfire response. The department said in a release Saturday that the majority of counties are at very high risk of fire danger.

Annual burning permits have been suspended, the department said Saturday.

"To help us keep Wisconsinites safe, the DNR is asking you to avoid all outdoor burning including limiting the use of campfires and making sure to extinguish and dispose of cigarettes properly," the release said. "Outdoor enthusiasts should also use caution with off-road vehicles or equipment that can create a spark and start a fire."

A state Department of Natural Resources spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Experts said last week that large parts of the country are preparing for another potentially dangerous wildfire season.

Last year, millions of acres burned in a record wildfire season that was focused primarily in the western half of the country, in states such as California, Washington and Oregon. But this year, blazes have already burned in the Upper Plains, Rockies, Great Lakes and Southwest regions.

Nearly 1,800 firefighters had mobilized to battle at least 19 blazes across those regions Friday, Stanton Florea, a spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center, said previously.

While fire experts are not panicking yet, they are preparing for the worst, said Carrie Bilbao, a spokeswoman with the Bureau of Land Management who also works with the National Interagency Fire Center.

"Fire season can be at any time," Bilbao said. "We just don't really have those wet seasons consistently anymore."