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Firefighters, residents step up to battle Waushara County Pallet Fire

Waushara County rallies to help firefighters battling blaze
Posted at 10:06 PM, Jul 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-12 10:39:25-04

COLOMA (NBC 26) — Crews from dozens of local fire departments were hard at work battling the Pallet fire in Waushara County Monday. As of Tuesday morning, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported the fire was "99% contained."

According to the DNR, the fire burned more than 830 acres across the townships of Richford and Coloma, forcing roughly 100 homes to be evacuated, and destroying three. The agency added that most of the people who were evacuated have now returned home, but several stretches of road surrounding the fire's location remained closed Tuesday.

Coloma Fire Department Assistant Chief Erik Johnston was one of the firefighters called in to put out the fire, and says he's been working non-stop since he was first called in Monday afternoon. He says he does it all to protect his community.

“These are our people," said Johnston, "we didn’t want to leave them, we wanted to make sure they were OK through the night and they were.”

While firefighters were out battling the blaze, people like Steve Schneider began bringing food and drinks to the Coloma fire station to help keep them going.

Schmidt says he's "very grateful" to the firefighters, especially since he says he owns a cabin a few hundred yards from the edge of the fire. He says he appreciates how firefighters look out for their community, and each other.

“They truly are a band of brothers," said Schmidt. "Whenever they’re needed they just go, drop of a hat, no questions asked.”

Johnston says he's grateful to the dozens of other departments who came out to assist as well, and says his department couldn't have done it, without the community's support.

“We’ve had a spread of food here from local businesses [at the station] that has just been insane…" he said, "without a small community coming together like that, this wouldn’t have happened."

The DNR said the fire was caused by someone burning debris, and strengthened by dry weather and high winds. DNR officials recommended people refrain from burning debris while dry conditions continue.