Steve Rundio – La Crosse Tribune, Wis.
Sep. 26—Federal investigators declined to blame prescribed burns at Fort McCoy for a mid-April wildfire in Monroe County, but a local fire chief is adamant that no burning should have been conducted anywhere in the area during that time.
Fire investigators from the Department of Defense concluded that an April 12 prescribed burn at Fort McCoy did not cause the fire. Investigators were unable to determine if a prescribed burn conducted April 11 played a role.
Fort McCoy announced the investigation’s results in a press release Tuesday.
The investigation determined that the prescribed burns “complied with all applicable standards required to be conducted by a federal military installation” and that “prudent measures were taken to mitigate the inherent risks associated with prescribed burns.”
Town of Lincoln Fire Department chief Michael Morphey said Tuesday that any burning was ill-advised.
“Fire conditions were extreme, and there were 40 mph winds,” Morphey said. “There should have been no burning that day.”
The fire consumed 3,200 acres, most of them woodland within the 60,000-acre military base. However, the fire skipped the installation’s borders in the town of Grant, where it burned private property and caused the temporary closure of Interstate 94. One family was displaced by the fire. No injuries were reported.
The Monroe County fire occurred during a period when wildfires were reported in 14 Wisconsin counties, including a fire in Juneau County that burned 100 acres.
According to the investigation, the April 12 prescribed burn was 1 1/2 miles away from the wildfire’s origin “in or around McCredden’s Pass.” The cause remains undetermined due to evidence possibly washed away by heavy rain and snowfall. Investigators ruled out lightning, troop training and operations.
Investigators concluded that Fort McCoy had sufficient personnel to manage both burns and that there were no safety concerns.
Morphey said his department wasn’t consulted in the fire’s aftermath, even though fire crews from his department battled the blaze. He said he only recently learned that Fort McCoy conducted an “after-action review” in May.
“We weren’t even involved,” he said. “We would have something to take to them.”
The press release says plans are under way to rehabilitate the areas impacted by the wildfire and that the U.S. Army Claims Service is adjudicating claims from those who may have suffered losses from the fire. It says Fort McCoy leadership will meet with the community in the upcoming weeks to discuss the findings and field questions.
“Fort McCoy is committed to the safety and protection of all people and property in and around the installation and surrounding communities and continues to improve procedures of the Wildland Fire Management Program,” the press release says.
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