US Department of Defense investigators have finished their investigation into the large "Fort McCoy" wildfire on April 12, 2023.
There was a controversy that a prescribed burn by military officials started the widespread fire. However, the DOD investigators concluded the April 12 prescribed burn did not cause the fire, but are unsure if the April 11 fire the day before played a role in the overall wildfire, in northern Wisconsin.
No one was injured in the fire, but at least three structures were damaged and one shed was destroyed, NBC 26 previously reported.
Ultimately, 2,983 acres on Fort McCoy were burned, and 109 acres in Monroe and Jackson counties were impacted.
Read Fort McCoy's press release below:
FORT McCOY, Wis. – The investigation of the April 12, 2023, wildland fire in the vicinity of Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, is complete.
This investigation, conducted by Department of Defense fire investigators from outside Fort McCoy concluded that the April 12 prescribed burn did not cause the fire. Additionally, the investigators could not determine if the Fort McCoy prescribed burn conducted on April 11 played a role in the wildfire.
According to the investigation, the active prescribed burn occurring on April 12 was over a mile and half away from the wildfire’s origin. While the origin has been identified as in or around McCredden’s Pass, the wildfire’s cause remains undetermined due to evidence possibly being washed away by heavy rain and snow fall in the days following the wildfire. However, it was conclusively determined that lightning, troop training, and operations have been ruled out.
The investigators found the Fort McCoy prescribed burns conducted during the time in question complied with all applicable standards required to be conducted by a federal military installation. The investigation found that prudent measures were taken to mitigate the inherent risks associated with prescribed burns. This includes:
• Long- and short-term prescribed burn planning and field coordination among burn team members and outside agencies, including the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR);
• Weather gathering and monitoring; and
• Oversight and decision-making by properly trained and equipped veteran personnel with as much as 30 years’ experience.
Fort McCoy was found to have had sufficient personnel to manage the April 11 prescribed burn and took precautions to ensure no embers, smoke, or other fire hazards remained after the burn concluded. The same is true for the April 12 prescribed burn where investigators noted no safety concerns.
The incident and subsequent investigation provided a platform for Fort McCoy to improve policies and reinforce standards. For example, Fort McCoy is reinforcing the firebreak system in hard-to-access locations especially on the western boundary of the North impact area.
Fort McCoy is committed to the safety and protection of all people and property in and around the installation and surrounding communities and continues to improve procedures of the Wildland Fire Management Program.
Plans are underway to rehabilitate the areas impacted by the wildfires, such as natural and artificial regeneration of plant communities. The U.S. Army Claims Service is adjudicating claims presented by those who may have suffered damage or loss from the fire. Finally, Fort McCoy leadership will meet with the community in the upcoming weeks to discuss the findings and field questions.