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4,000-Acre Wis. Forest Fire Hits Homes

May 6, 2005

BIG FLATS, Wis. (AP) _ A blaze that began as a brush fire burned homes and forced dozens to flee as it spread over almost 4,000 acres before it was contained overnight.

Nearly 100 people were evacuated from a 100-square-mile area in what was called Wisconsin’s largest fire in a quarter century.

Government and Red Cross workers planned to begin assessing the damage Friday. Jennifer Rabuck, fire information officer for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said several subdivisions were affected but she was unsure how much was destroyed.

The flames began Thursday in Big Flats, in rural Adams County, and were contained overnight, though some hot spots remained, Sheriff’s Department dispatcher Diane Waite said. Early rains helped, she said.

Deb Rogers said she and her husband had just an hour to grab some clothes, her purse and their two dogs before fleeing to a relative’s house.

``At first, I thought it was just a big rain cloud. ... It didn’t look like smoke,″ she said.

Lorraine Clementi’s family saw the smoke as they drove home from a doctor’s appointment.

``We don’t have insurance, and that’s what made my heart sink,″ Clementi said. ``And then we stopped and prayed at the side of the road, and I know my house is protected.″

Her granddaughter, Echo Hoffman, who is due to give birth in December, said she worried she would lose all her new baby items. The family also had to leave behind a dog and cat and all other valuables.

``Our house most likely went up,″ Hoffman said.

About two dozen people spent the night at an elementary school.

Fire of this magnitude is rare in Wisconsin, said Jim Gobel, a state forestry technician for 16 years. He said the flames got into the crowns of the 20- to 25-foot high trees, including many used in pulpwood manufacturing.

``Wisconsin hasn’t had a really big, huge fire like this in 25 years,″ he said.

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