The Cambridge and Deerfield fire departments have asked that we don’t light any fires outside right now, other than cooking grills.

The potential consequences are more dire than in past dry, windy springs.

Spring is always a dangerous time for outdoor burning. This year, with the need to keep our emergency responders healthy and able to answer COVID-19 calls, abiding by burning bans where they’re in place and using common sense in areas of the state where they’re not, is critical.

Last month, the DNR suspended burning permits in its designated forest fire protection areas that cover much of the state. In those areas, burning debris in barrels, in piles on the ground and in grassy or wooded areas is now prohibited indefinitely.

The reasons are largely seasonal. All but the very northern tier of Wisconsin is currently at high or very high risk of forest fires and nine fires were being responded to this week around the state, including one that burned more than 200 acres in the Necedah Wildlife Refuge in Juneau County.

Cambridge and Deerfield aren’t in a DNR forest fire protection area; only a small section of northwest Dane County is.

Our part of Dane and Jefferson counties, rather, lies in a “co-op” area in which the DNR doesn’t regulate burning but does work with local fire departments to minimize fire risks and to respond to fires when they happen, Deerfield Fire Chief Josh Sewell explained this week.

With dry conditions and worries about having to bring emergency responders together during a time of COVID-19 social distancing, the Cambridge and Deerfield fire departments each recently enacted their own local burning ban.

“A brush or wildland fire out of control is very labor intensive and requires a number of volunteers to extinguish. We are trying to maintain social distancing to protect our volunteers and keep them available for other responses,” Cambridge Fire Chief Terry Johnson said in a recent release.

In the Cambridge fire district, which includes the villages of Cambridge and Rockdale and portions of the Towns of Christiana, Lake Mills and Oakland, the ban includes burn barrels, piles of any size of leaves, brush or construction materials, trees, tree lines and grasses. Cooking grills are permitted. Backyard campfires, while allowed are “highly discouraged.”

Burning in the Deerfield area is similarly suspended “to ensure the health and safety for our personnel as well as our mutual aid departments during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sewell wrote in an email.

The Deerfield area’s ban includes burning barrels, piles of leaves or yard waste, prairie grass and wooded areas of any size. Grills and fire pits with a cover can be used but “with caution.”

We hope that local residents take the burning bans in our area seriously and abide by them.

But there are always those who will search out the loophole, in this case the exception that still allows you to legally burn outdoors in a municipality elsewhere in the state in which you have property or a seasonal home.

Many Cambridge and Deerfield area residents own seasonal homes or property elsewhere in Wisconsin and are eager to get out and clean up winter debris, including burning.

Even if local rules allow you burn outdoors on your property elsewhere in the state, we ask that you consider the potential extra consequences this year.

Consider not burning anything outside in Wisconsin, for now, even in places that you legally can still do so.

Emergency responders across the state, who are risking their lives answering not just routine calls but also COVID-19 calls, thank you.

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