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Landowners of Fond du Lac County marsh speak out after fire

Posted at 5:57 PM, Apr 11, 2024

FOND DU LAC (NBC 26) — About 30 acres of marshland just off of Lake Winnebago was engulfed in flames Wednesday night. Most of it was on Ronald Goldapske's property.

  • The fire was contained to the marshland and no one was injured, according to law enforcement
  • The fire was started as a controlled burn, but neighbors say quickly-changing winds caused it to spread.
  • The landowners say they're thankful for the community's help Wednesday night.

Goldapske's son Jackson said he was returning home from a senior trip to the Wisconsin Dells with friends Wednesday evening, when he saw smoke off in the distance.
"Then I got the phone call that my neighbor's land is on fire and it was heading towards ours," Goldapske said.

The marshland where he and his dad go turkey hunting was up in flames.

"At the time, I didn't know where the fire was," Goldapske said. "I just saw the smoke in the air. I saw the flames kind of rising and I thought the spruce trees were already lit up. And that's when I started to panic. I was like, you know, there's my house, my neighbor's house."

The Fond du Lac County Sheriff's Office says nobody was hurt and the fire was contained to the marshland, not the nearby tree lines. It was put out within a few hours, according to the sheriff's office.

Investigators say the fire started when neighbors Rick and Denise Ottman burned some cardboard boxes and other small waste from the house they're building.

"We had zero wind and so we decided to light our little burn pile," Rick Ottman said.

Ottman said the fire started small, but after about a half hour, a quickly-changing wind pattern caused it to spread into the nearby marshland.

"Even though you think you have perfect conditions for a little backyard fire, even though the fire hazard was low yesterday, due to damp conditions and the time of the year, it doesn't take much and fire can erupt," Ottman said.

Goldapske said he's appreciative of family and friends, who came by to help him and his father, especially since this happened just weeks after his mother died.

"We had her funeral on Sunday... and now this occurring... we saw a lot of great people who came to help this last couple of days," Goldapske said. "So it meant a lot to me and my dad."

The Goldapskes said they're hoping to see the marsh regrow within the next few months.