MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The state Department of Natural Resources will bill a logging company more than $600,000 for starting a massive wildfire in northern Wisconsin earlier this year, the agency announced Monday.
The DNR announced shortly after the fire was contained that a logging crew's cutting machine sparked the blaze. The agency said the machine's operator tried to put the fire out with a fire extinguisher but it leaped into the trees and spread. Prosecutors declined to file any charges, saying there was no criminal intent or negligence.
Investigators later discovered the cutting machine had a fire suppression system complete with a hose during an inspection, DNR Bureau of Forest Protection Director Trent Marty said. No one had told the investigators it existed.
Investigators later determined the logging crew had tried to use the system but it didn't work properly. When they tested the system in June they found the pressure was set too low. The DNR concluded the logging company, Rib Lake-based Ray Duerr Logging, didn't properly maintain and hadn't tested the system.
Investigators considered citing the machine's operator for obstructing the probe but ultimately decided the case wasn't strong enough to take to prosecutors, Marty said. But the DNR concluded the company was negligent because it failed to maintain equipment at the logging site that could have prevented or contained the fire and should pay the costs for fighting the blaze, estimated at around $630,000, Marty said.
A message left at a listing for Ray Duerr Logging on Monday wasn't immediately returned.
The blaze, dubbed the Germann Road Fire, was the largest fire in Wisconsin in 33 years. It broke out on May 14 in Douglas County. It consumed about 7,442 acres, destroyed 17 homes in the towns of Gordon and Highland and forced dozens of people to evacuate before firefighters finally contained it late on May 15.
DNR officials said shortly after the fire was contained that a logger was operating a large machine with a circular saw that cuts groups of trees. The operator noticed smoke coming from beneath the cutting head, jumped out and saw grass under the machine was burning.
The operator tried to use a fire extinguisher to put the fire out but it leaped into the trees and spread. Another member of the operator's crew called 911. Prosecutors in May declined to file any charges, saying there was no criminal intent or negligence.
Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank didn't immediately return a message left at his office on Monday.
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