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Firefighter badly hurt in Fort Atkinson blaze; fire continues to burn

Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 8:21 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2021 at 7:37 PM CDT
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FORT ATKINSON, Wis. (WMTV) - The fire that erupted at a Fort Atkinson warehouse Tuesday afternoon is continuing to burn into the next day with active fires reported throughout the buildings, Fire Chief Daryl Rausch reported in Wednesday morning update.

As the fire smoldered into its 20th hour, around 7 a.m., Rausch explained firefighters were trying to manage hot spots and had stopped adding water to the building. An estimated 250 firefighters from approximately four dozen fire departments responded to aid the primarily volunteer firefighters from Fort Atkinson.

“I think our department our volunteers as well as the volunteers and the professional departments in the area that were able to come down and and help us put this fire out really shows a lot of community engagement and a very proud and humbled,” Fort Atkinson City Manager Rebecca Houseman Lemire said.

The state Dept. of Natural Resources is expected to declare a health advisory for the air quality around the city sometime Tuesday. On its Facebook page, the city posted the agency was in the process of issuing it.

As such, the city is asking residents to keep their doors and windows closed and turn on their air conditioners, if possible.

The DNR later stated that its crews were working to determine the environmental impact and that runoff from firefighting efforts has reached storm sewers and the Rock River. However, the DNR did not issue a health advisory as the City had said it would.

The agency is working to start containing the runoff and perform recovery efforts.

“The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is assisting with the investigation of environmental impacts resulting from a fire at a facility in the 700 block of Oak Street in Ft. Atkinson, WI. The DNR is aware that runoff from the firefighting effort has impacted storm sewers and the Rock River. The DNR will continue to work with the municipality to assess the impacted storm sewers. At the time of the incident, the DNR worked with our Emergency Response Zone Contract to begin runoff containment and recovery efforts near the known impacted outfall in the Rock River and will continue to work with applicable parties on assessment and cleanup efforts. This is a developing incident and the assessment and cleanup efforts are ongoing.”

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Fort Atkinson Fire Chief Daryl Rausch holds a news conference on August 11, 2021, a day after...
Fort Atkinson Fire Chief Daryl Rausch holds a news conference on August 11, 2021, a day after the Fort Atkinson fire.(WMTV-TV/Curt Lenz)

One firefighters was seriously injured, suffering a bad cut while battling the blaze, Rausch said. He added that the firefighter, whose name was not released, was first taken to a local hospital for treatment, then moved to UW Hospital, where he underwent surgery.

At least two other firefighters were suffered heat-related injuries.

“This was a pretty heroic event. Those first end Crews actually stopped this fire pretty much where we found it,” Rausch said. He detailed how the first firefighters on scene reported seeing the roof in flames, and said that portion of the building was destroyed.

However, he pointed out the other portion of the building was “fully functional.”

Firefighters were using up to 5,000 gallons a minute to extinguish the flames on Tuesday. According to Rausch, the city’s water system can only replenish approximately 2,000 gallons a minute, which led the city to warn residents of decreased water pressure and possible discoloration. The fire chief emphasized that the city was never out of water.

Fort Atkinson Fire Chief Daryl Rausch let the fire burn out over the next several days. He says tenants in the...

Posted by Colton Molesky NBC15 on Wednesday, August 11, 2021

A “significant” run-off issue

“We used about a million gallons of water yesterday,” Fort Atkinson Fire Chief Daryl Rausch said, “We created a significant run-off issue, we have pollution going all the way to the Rock River.” The Chief says they’re working to minimize that pollution by not adding anymore water.

The EPA will be heading to Fort Atkinson today to monitor for particulates and carcinogens in the air. Then, officials will decide if people nearby will need to be re-evacuated.

“As long as the weather stays as it is and the smoke column stays out of the residential areas we’re probably okay,” said Chief Rausch.

Rauch predicts fire officials will remain on scene for the next couple of days to deal with hotspots and any other hazards to the community.

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