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NEWS STORIES

More Northwoods crews head West as national fire problem growsSubmitted: 08/16/2013
Story By Lyndsey Stemm


RHINELANDER - Wildfires out west grew by nearly 50 percent in the past week. The state of Wisconsin has sent more than 300 crew members to help this month alone.

We showed you a crew leaving Woodruff last week for California. Another crew left Woodruff this morning. The 20 person team will go to Montana to fight a fire that started two days ago.

The wildfire situation nationwide is classified on a scale of one to five. Right now the country is at a four.

But that will likely bump up to the highest rating, a five, this weekend. That means we've used 80% of our national resources to fight fires across the country.

"Eighty percent of resources is made up of various equipment from bulldozers to helicopters to personnel to engines," says Jim Grant, from the U.S. Forest Service.

States won't send out all the resources they have. Each state holds back the minimum resources it would need for its own fire threat level.

When the country reaches level five, the military might have to help.

"The activation of the military comes from the president ultimately. When they're activated, it could be any branch of the military, but typically we see the United States Army, and even the Marines a lot of times, involved in this. Before they're put on the fire lines they're given training courses. They're given the basic training courses they need to continue to be safe out there before we put them on the lines," says Grant.

Right now there are $15,000 firefighters on the ground in 14 states. They're battling 40 large fires. To even be considered a large fire, thousands of acres have to be burning.

The fire season could last through October.



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ONEIDA COUNTY - Just over a week ago more than 10 different agencies rushed out to rural western Oneida County for a man threatening to blow up his house.

When crews got there, 60-year-old Kenneth Welsh was sitting on his porch with a long gun, for three hours he held police up in a standoff.

Last week he was charged with attempted first degree homicide among other felonies.

Welsh appeared in court Friday to hear the judge's decision if there's enough evidence in the case against him to move forward.

Ultimately Judge Michael Bloom did decide to move it forward, but not without hearing testimony.

Welsh didn't waive his preliminary hearing because his public defender said there was information she wanted to get on the record.

"He has a right to a preliminary hearing and this is a very serious charge and I wasn't going to waive that," said Welsh's public defender Mary Roth Burns.

For instance, Roth Burns asked Detective Sergeant Chad Wanta, who testified, about Welsh's medical condition during the standoff, since he had been shot in the shoulder. She also asked about Welsh's wife, Mary Butler, who changed her story multiple times. In the criminal complaint, Butler made inconsistent statements about Welsh was drinking and if he pointed a gun at her before she shot him, which investigators concluded was in self defense.

"The wife said he wasn't going to go down without a fight and made it sound like he was really violent," Roth Burns said. "And he basically went down, he never shot, fired a shot anyone, he never made a threat at anyone."

When asked if she thought Welsh went down without a fight, Roth Burns responded, "absolutely."

In the search warrant investigators found several guns, a few loaded, and one semi automatic shotgun. Roth Burns asked if Welsh ever shot at police during the standoff. The detective testifying said no.

The detective also said when crews shot the bean bag rounds at him to try to arrest him, Welsh said, "Just kill me, just kill me, just shoot me."

Roth Burns said there's other evidence she still needs to see. For instance, police flew a drone over the Welsh home. The detective said Welsh aimed at the drone, but not at police.

"There was a drone, I'd like to see video of the drone if that shows him sitting on the steps waiting for law enforcement to arrive," Roth Burns said. "That's not threatening anyone."

She said it's still early, but they are considering defense strategies—not excluding a possible competency examination.

Welsh will be back in court on May 16 for an arraignment. 

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