Firefighters issue warning after two weekend brush fires

SHEBOYGAN -- Firefighters in both Sheboygan and Jefferson counties battled brush fires this past weekend. Though spring has not yet officially arrived, crews are already seeing some pretty big grass fires.

Monday's rain was a relief for firefighters. They wish it would have come Sunday, as warm, dry air allowed grass fires to spread quickly. After cleaning off the soot, one firefighter reminded people to think before they burn.

Sheboygan Fire Chief Joe Stahl had his hands full Sunday. Stahl needed the help of eight other departments to contain a grass fire north of the city, and he says he worries it's only the beginning. "Normally, it's not that early because of the snow cover, but because we have no snow, I have a feeling this is going to be a long spring," Stahl said.

Stahl says most grass fires start because of people just being careless. "People burning when they're not supposed to, where they're not supposed to, not paying attention. They might start a bonfire and it might get away from them, or they might try burning weeds off in their yard, and it takes off into the field," Stahl said.

Since grass fires cover a lot of ground and spread quickly, firefighters need a little bit of everything. Many firefighters had to walk a quarter of a mile to get from the road to the blaze. Since it wasn't easy to get water over, some firefighters used brooms to beat the fire toward Lake Michigan.

Stahl said Sunday's grass fire was difficult to fight because firefighters couldn't see much, and had to rely on radio reports. "We sent a couple people from two different directions to give us an update on what was going on, and that sort of dictated where we sent the manpower of engines, depending on where it was going at the time," Stahl said.

To avoid these grass fires, Stahl says it's important to check the weather before deciding to burn. "If it's windy conditions, you don't want to be burning because embers can take off from one fire and start another fire. Just be careful when it's this dry," Stahl said.

We also spoke with Michael Sieger, a forester with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. He says it'd be best to avoid burning until we see more green. If you can't wait, Sieger says you should surround the fire with soil or other materials that don't burn easily. If it's windy though, he says you shouldn't burn at all.

Sunday's fire came within about 10 yards of a couple homes. One homeowner didn't want to go on camera, but said it was scary. Fortunately, the homes are on a bluff, and the fire never reached them.