Authorities are investigating whether logging operations may have sparked a massive wildfire in northwestern Wisconsin that destroyed dozens of buildings and forced at least 60 people from their homes, state officials said Wednesday.
The wildfire has consumed 8,700 to 9,000 acres in Douglas and Bayfield counties but is about 95 percent contained, meaning firefighters have largely arrested the spread of the fire, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
"I would say we are really close to having this fire in hand," DNR spokesman Robert Manwell said Wednesday. "We are probably going to be here for another 36, 48 hours doing mop-up, taking care of hot spots, things of that kind."
No injuries have been reported in the largest forest fire to hit northern Wisconsin in 33 years, according to the DNR.
Winds were expected shift from northwest to west, which could help push fire from more populated areas, the DNR said.
The DNR was even expected to start taking people back to their properties Wednesday to check on damage and retrieve pets and supplies, Manwell said.
Gov. Scott Walker was scheduled to survey damage and visit with first responders and local officials today.
Officials were investigating whether a spark from logging equipment could have started the fire near Simms Lake in Douglas County, DNR spokesman Ed Culhane said.
At least 60 people have evacuated their homes, and 22 of them stayed overnight at a high school in Drummond, 60 miles southeast of Duluth, Minn., the DNR said. Forty-seven structures were destroyed, including 17 homes, but fire crews were able to save 77 buildings, according to the DNR.
Meanwhile in Menahga, Minn., firefighters were getting the upper hand Wednesday on a wildfire that destroyed more than 50 structures as it scorched about 7,100 acres in northwestern Minnesota.
Jean Goad, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center, said crews were off to a good start toward containing the Green Valley Fire, which started on private land during windy weather Tuesday afternoon, about two miles northwest of Menahga, a community of about 1,300 people.
Crews built a bulldozer line around most of the fire perimeter and attacked hot spots with water-dropping planes and helicopters. Firefighters from more than 40 departments across the region were helping, she said.
Fire managers said Wednesday that the fire had destroyed 12 residences, two commercial properties and 41 outbuildings. The fire was 25 percent contained.
Officials raised the size estimate to 7,100 acres from an initial 3,000 to 4,000 acres, but Goad said that was based on better data, not new growth in the fire, which has burned a path about eight miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide. The cause remained under investigation, she said, and there were no reports of injuries.