76
      Tuesday
      87 / 64
      Wednesday
      86 / 63
      Thursday
      85 / 61

      Residents armed with questions at wildfire public meeting

      Dozens of community members and property owners gathered, once again, at McMillan Township Hall in Newberry on Wednesday afternoon, awaiting word from the Department of Natural Resources.

      They came for answers. Victims of the Duck Lake Wildfire say they had very little time to evacuate last week. On Wednesday, they wanted to know why.

      "I know the fire was started at Pike Lake on Monday night, and if I'd known that was going on, I would've been packed or at least ready to go," said a property owner at the meeting.

      But crews were battling a different blaze, the Seney National Wildlife Refuge wildfire, already at 5,800 acres in size at the time. Officials with the DNR say Duck Lake was under control.

      "Normally when we're working on a fire like that, we don't notify residents," said Rich Ahnen, an on-site incident commander. "If it's under control when the fire escapes the control lines, then we go into our emergency action."

      They say no one could've predicted it would get so out of hand. But when it did, the damage was extensive: 46 homes, 35 outbuildings, 26 campers and 23 garages. In total, 132 structures were burned to the ground.

      "We realize that these people have waited over a week to learn about their homes to see if they're damaged or not," Ahnen said.

      For Bill and Fran Bjork, not knowing is the hardest part.

      "You get up everyday and you try to find as much news as you can; you talk to the DNR and hope for the best," said Bill Bjork, a property owner at Little Two-Hearted River.

      At the meeting, they stood in line with a few more to learn the fate of their cabin. Built only a year ago, it's about a mile southeast of the fire line.

      "We got some pretty good news in there that we're still outside the fire perimeter," Bjork said.

      Others weren't so lucky.