By The Associated Press

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. April 13, 2023.

Editorial: Spring fire safety is important

A pair of Wisconsin wildfires this week should be a reminder to everyone to be careful this spring.

Spring fires are common because the undergrowth is dry from the winter. That’s true even when there has been a fair amount of snow, as we saw this past season. Last fall’s final growth dries out faster than the soil, and it remains vulnerable to fires until spring growth resumes.

A wildfire in Juneau County forced evacuations, but does not appear to have caused any major losses. That fire burned 100 acres before it was contained.

A much larger fire erupted in Jackson County. It was at 2,800 acres as of Thursday and only half contained. That one has caused structure damage, though it’s hard to say yet how much. State officials were watching for potential interstate closures if the smoke got too bad.

The reason we’ve seen fires this week seems pretty obvious. The unusually warm temperatures accelerated the drying process, leaving open land particularly vulnerable. And Wisconsin is no stranger to wildfires. While the rest of the nation associates them with the western states, the worst wildfire in American history happened here.

On Oct. 8, 1871, the Peshtigo Fire erupted and burned some 1.2 million acres. It destroyed at least 17 towns. There were about 1,200 fatalities, 800 of which were in Peshtigo itself.

Why is Peshtigo not better remembered? Timing. Look up the date, and the first entry you’re likely to see is for the Great Chicago Fire.

That fire was a comparatively small one. Blamed in legend on Mr. O’Leary’s cow (a claim that has been debunked), the Chicago fire killed 300 people and claimed 3.3 square miles. But, because it was in a major city, that’s what was remembered.

Wisconsin’s history with wildfires includes numerous other major events. The 2013 Germann Road Fire produced flames 20-30 feet high and burned almost 7,500 acres, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

More than 3,400 acres were burned in the Cottonville Fire of 2005, which the DNR says needed “38 tractor plows, 25 forest rangers with Type-7 4x4s, three low ground units, six heavy dozers and almost 200 DNR personnel to control and eventually suppress the wildfire.”

The Oak Lake Fire of 1980 needed more than 2,000 firefighters from 23 departments to bring it under control. In 1977 the state saw the Saratoga, Brockway and Airport fires back-to-back. They collectively burned more than 26,700 acres.

The list goes on.

Fires will happen, and some will have natural causes like lightning strikes. But many have human causes like improperly tended campfires or sparks from small motors. And those are preventable.

Paying attention to conditions is important. Controlled burns are important for many people as they dispose of brush or similar debris. But wait until the winds are calm. Check to see whether there are restrictions in place for burning before striking a match.

There are also things you can do to make your property safer when fires break out. Keeping the area around homes and other buildings free of brush or windblown leaves eliminates potential fuel sources. Keep grass within 20 feet of any structure mowed.

Even the best efforts won’t prevent every fire. It’s well worth the effort to reduce risks, though, and eliminating preventable fires will leave firefighting resources available for others. It’s something we all can contribute to.

Making Wisconsin a little bit safer isn’t that hard. It just takes some awareness of conditions and some common sense. No one wants to start a fire that destroys homes and properties. Paying attention can help keep that from happening.


Wisconsin State Journal. April 16, 2023.

Editorial: Gun shop bill is fine, but don’t stop there

Asmall yet worthy idea to address gun violence in Wisconsin seems to have bipartisan support, which is encouraging.

But so much more must be done to protect the public from senseless shootings, including universal background checks and strict limits on weapons of war.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican lawmakers appear to agree on the need for suicide prevention measures at gun stores and ranges. The governor included $150,000 in his state budget proposal to train staff at firearm retailers and ranges to recognize when someone might be contemplating suicide. The money also could pay for related literature at gun shops and precautionary, voluntary firearm storage.

Two lawmakers — Sen. Jesse James, R-Altoona, and Rep. Shae Sortwell, R-Two Rivers — have introduced the same proposal as a standalone bill. So this looks like it can pass, which is good. Paying closer attention to people with guns who might have harmful thoughts could save lives and maybe even prevent a mass shooting. Credit James and Sortwell for seeking this small measure of progress.

Yet the epidemic of gun violence across America — including last week’s killing of two police officers near the northwestern Wisconsin village of Cameron — demands much bigger and broader action from the Republican-run Legislature.

Gun rights advocates claim, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” But mass shooters using military-style weapons kill more people, on average, than other mass shooters. So the gun can be the difference in how many die.

Moreover, the absence of a gun can prevent violence. The gun homicide rate in the U.S. is 26 times higher than in other wealthy nations with stricter laws, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

After so many massacres at schools, theaters and stores, a significant legislative response is needed, which Evers and other Democrats have strongly favored.

Wisconsin, for example, should require consistent background checks on all gun purchases and transfers. That way, if a dangerous person isn’t supposed to have a deadly weapon, a potential sale can be canceled. While licensed dealers must run a check before finalizing a purchase, many online and in-person sellers are exempt.

That’s how a man was able to purchase a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun to fatally shoot three women at a Brookfield spa in 2012. He got the gun from an online seller. A background check would have stopped the sale because of the man’s lengthy restraining order.

The GOP-controlled Legislature also should adopt a “red flag” law allowing judges to temporarily disarm people with strong evidence of imminent danger. At the national level, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act encourages states to adopt “red flag” protections.

GOP representatives should bring back a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases, which could have prevented a young man in Madison from buying a gun in 2016 and, the very next day, shooting a 24-year-old grocery store worker from Stoughton.

Wisconsin’s GOP should hold parents responsible for loose guns when children use them to kill or maim people. The 15-year-old who killed his principal at Weston High School in rural Cazenovia in 2006 got his guns from his father’s home.

The legal age for buying a firearm should be raised from 18 to 21, given how many young people cause mass shootings. Florida did just that — and more — following the 2018 school massacre in Parkland.

Wisconsin should strictly limit — if not ban — the sale of military-style weapons to civilians, such as assault rifles and exploding ammunition. An AR-15, which was designed for war, isn’t necessary to hunt deer or protect your family. Similarly, reasonable limits should be set on high-capacity magazines.

Some Republicans are finally stepping up to help Democrats protect the public from chronic gun violence. But James and Sortwell’s baby steps, though welcome, are far from real solutions.