By: Bill Matthias
Ignited by a single match on April 30, 1977, the Five Mile Tower Fire raged out of control for seventeen hours. It would be one of the largest wildland fires in Wisconsin history, ultimately destroying more than 13,000 acres of land and sixty-three buildings.
As a column of black pine smoke reached high in the sky, citizens from Minong, Chicog, Webster, Gordon, Wascott, Hayward, Spooner, Solon Springs, and other communities began showing up to help. The grassy field designated as fire headquarters quickly became a hub of activity, jammed with trucks, school buses, dozers on trailers, dump trucks, tanker trucks, fuel trucks, and hundreds of people waiting to sign in. More than nine hundred came in the first four hours, clogging the road with traffic in both directions. Headquarters personnel worked valiantly to coordinate citizens and DNR workers in a buildup of people and equipment unprecedented in the history of Wisconsin firefighting.
Based on his own experiences during the long battle, plus dozens of interviews and other eyewitness accounts, Bill Matthias presents an in-depth look at the Five Mile Tower Fire, the brave citizens who helped fight it, and the important changes made to firefighting laws and procedures in its aftermath.
was born in Columbus, Wisconsin, and grew up in Madison. He began his studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison as a preforestry major and rekindled his interest in the pine, oak, and lake regions of northwest Wisconsin when he became the superintendent of Northwood School District in Minong in 1975. While superintendent, Matthias launched the teenage firefighting crews at Northwood High School and battled the Five Mile Tower Fire of 1977 for fifty hours. He and his wife, Karen, spend their winters in Florida and each spring return to the Wisconsin Northwoods, where Matthias is a charter member of the Wascott Volunteer Fire Department.
Published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press
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