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On Tuesday, Eric Adams enjoyed one final afternoon on his front porch, taking in the heavily wooded scenery and distant view of Lake Superior before getting on a plane for Los Angeles and yet another wildfire he would have to battle.
Adams, who lives with his wife, Lynn, in the hills near Washburn, became a wildland firefighter about five years ago after having been a logger for about 33 years.
"For those who like this kind of life, it's great," he said. "I get to travel, to meet people — I get challenged a lot."
This year, the challenges have been virtually nonstop. They started this spring, fighting fires in Wisconsin, and then chasing wildfires in New Mexico, Wyoming and California.
Adams recently came home after fighting the Clairmont and Bear fires north of Chico, Calif., a combined blaze that has consumed more than 301,000 acres, making it the fifth largest fire in California history.
He spent just five days back home, clearing the soot and smoke out of his lungs before he got the phone call from his supervisor. His skills were urgently needed back in California at the Bobcat fire in the Angeles National Forest outside Los Angeles, which has already consumed 113,000 acres and remains only about 40 percent controlled as of Wednesday night. It is one of the largest fires in Los Angeles County history, say National Forest Service officials.
Adams first became interested in wildland firefighting after one of the employees in his logging business, Gary Krueger, got him interested in the job.
"He was working for me
and fighting fires parttime for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and he asked me 'why don't you try it?' so I did and totally enjoyed it."
Being a logger was a perfect match for the skills needed to be a wildland firefighter, Adams said. He was able to use his decades of skill about safely felling timber, clearing brush and operating equipment to help contain fires rather than harvest timber.
"We do a lot of the same things," he said. "I had to learn a lot about fires, but that came with time, and pretty soon I didn't have time to log anymore."
Still, he said he was happy to exchange one job for the other.
"I enjoy this way more," he said.
Adams said he loved working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and said he particularly enjoyed recruiting young, fit Native Americans for Bureau of Indian Affairs firefighting teams.
"We develop them into firefighters, give them some good employment and opportunities," he said. "They become outstanding firefighters."
Adams is a bit reluctant to be featured as a wildfire fighter. He emphasized that the process of fighting wildfires is a team effort.
"There are so many people around here who do this. We have people from Bad River and Red Cliff, from the U.S. Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources," he said. "We sort of get pooled up at this time of the year when there is a fire danger out west, when they need more resources than they have."
Adams said that is an annual event and he has become used to heading out west to fight fires.
However, he said the scale of the fires in California is simply monumental. Adams said a combination of extremely dry conditions, rugged terrain and constant hot, dry Santa Ana winds have made the fires nearly impossible to combat.
"You just about get there, and the winds pick up, and off it goes again. The Bear fire blew up to 200,000 acres in one day," he said. "I feel sorry for the people out there because of the air quality. I tell everybody to pray for rain. That is what they need. I don't look forward to going back."
Under the Bureau of Indian Affairs' firefighting rules, Adams is allowed to fight for 14 days before having to take time off.
"You can extend, but I thought I needed a little longer break than a couple of days off," he said.
But after five days of enjoying the clean air and the non-burning forest surrounding his home, he got the phone call he knew must come. It was time to get back in the fight.
What Adams does for a living is an inherently dangerous line of work, and he admits that. Still, he observes that his previous line of work, logging, is the most dangerous profession in America.
"We really have a big attitude about safety, and I promote that," he said. "There are a lot of safeguards we observe, it is priority one. We determine the hazards and mitigate them before we engage."
Adams said he worries more about COVID-19 than he does about the hazards of the job, and said the precautions he must take against the coronavirus are as troublesome as fighting the fire itself.
His wife, Lynn, said she has long since resigned herself to the fact that her husband has chosen a dangerous occupation, as she did when he worked in the woods as a logger.
"With Eric logging for most of his career and then moving to wildfire, I had to trust his good judgment in how to stay safe," she said. "We also have a son who is a career military Apache helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army who was deployed four times in the Middle East. I have to have trust that they both know their situations and know how to handle them safely. I just can't spend my life worrying about things I have no control of. It could be consuming and very unhealthy," she said.
Adams said fighting wildfires is something he would not have gotten involved in while his children were still at home. But now that the couple are empty nesters, he has the time to live his dream job.
For her part, Lynn Adams devotes her time to a variety of volunteer work she cares deeply about. For both of them, service to the greater community is a key part of their lives.
"He loves doing it," she said. "After a couple of weeks at home he starts getting antsy and I ask if there is another fire he wants to go to. I would never not want him to do this. I have learned how to do this life. We've made it work."
One day after Ashland County reported its highest single day total of COVID-19 infections, the Ashland School District closed its schools for at least two weeks as a high school teacher and student have both tested positive for coronavirus infection.
In addition, all bars and taverns in and around Ashland have been closed beginning one minute after midnight on Friday and lasting until one minute before midnight on Oct. 11.
"The district has nine staff members and over 20 students in a precautionary quarantine," Ashland County Health Officer Elizabeth Szot said. "Four individuals total have tested positive for COVID-19, however only one staff member and one student were present within the school. Additional exposures have been prevented through contact tracing efforts and quarantine interventions."
Ashland Administrator Erik Olson Wednesday said the two COVID-19 cases were a contributing factor in the decision to shut down in-person classes, but said the staff quarantines made it difficult to field enough teachers to make it possible to teach in person.
"We will be re-evaluating in two weeks to see where we are at," Olson said.
Olson said the number of teachers in precautionary quarantine had increased to 10 by Wednesday. He said when combined with
teachers who called in sick because of other illnesses, it was impossible to find sufficient numbers of substitute teachers to hold classes.
"When you don't have teachers in front of students, you can't run a school," he said.
Olson said fortunately the district's learning model allowed for swiftly changing how the schools would operate.
"One of the things we told the staff and community early was that we needed to be agile; this virus is unpredictable, and we needed to be able to switch between modalities on a moment's notice," he said. "That is exactly what we needed to do."
Szot said the county Health Department was working with the school district to track, trace and contain the virus.
Meanwhile, in the Mellen School District, due to a confirmed COVID-19 exposure, all ninth-grade students and sixth-grade students in Group B and all of their siblings were sent home Tuesday and will remain in quarantine for 14 days. Due to insufficient staffing, all 10ththrough 12th-grade students were also sent home Tuesday. The district said further information about their return to classes would be shared when substitute teacher coverage was obtained.
The announcements came just after the second-grade class of teacher Amanda Westlund returned to classes Monday after being sent home on Sept. 17 due to a possible COVID-19 exposure.
The order imposing bar closures said over the past week, 34 new COVID-19 infections had been identified with 32 new cases being identified over the past week.
On Monday alone, 15 new cases were identified.
"The majority of these newly identified positive cases are directly related to spontaneous gatherings in bars or tavern-type establishments, with no less than seven establishments being identified as sources of exposure," the order said.
Ashland County Administrator Clark Schroeder said the bar closure would have the effect of being a reset button for bars and taverns.
"One of the points regarding the bar closure is that there are a number of bars currently closed due to staff having to quarantine and that creates a surge in other remaining open bars," he said. "By pausing for two weeks, all the bars will be able to open at the same time and eliminate the current over-crowding which is adding to our positive case count."
Since Sept. 1, a total of 15 businesses in the Ashland area have been included in a list of businesses with increased risk of COVID-19 exposure. The list and map is maintained by Ashland County at its website at co.ashland.wi.us/covid_19
The listing also shows five businesses in Bayfield County and 22 in Iron County that have had COVID-19 exposures.
"COVID-19 can be spread by asymptomatic people, meaning people who are not experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath," Szot said. "Everyone over the age of 5 must wear cloth face coverings whenever indoors or in an enclosed space, other than a private residence, and other people not from your household are present in the same room or enclosed space."
In order to resume in-person instruction, Ashland County Public Health reminds parents, students, and community members to take the following precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19:
• Limit nonessential trips into the community.
• Stay home when sick and do not send students to school if ill.
• Watch for symptoms of COVID-19, which include fever and chills, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, fatigue and body/muscle aches, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea.
• Seek testing from a provider if symptoms of COVID-19 occur.
• Keep physical distance of at least 6 feet from anyone not part of your household.
• Frequently wash your hands and cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve.
The islands weave magic about them. Their glamour annually draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the globe who enjoy their natural beauty steeped in the culture surrounding the Ojibwe, fishing, logging and adventure.
For 50 years come Saturday, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has guarded and guided the 22 Lake Superior islands at the tip of the Bayfield Peninsula, and plans to fete the golden anniversary had been scheduled to cover nearly all of 2020.
Then COVID-19 intervened.
But fear not. Bayfield area communities will enjoy birthday treats thanks to the islands — just one year later than originally planned.
Birth of a national park
Bob Mackreth, a retired National Lakeshore historian and member of the Apostle Islands Historic Preservation Conservancy dedicated to being a bridge between the park and area communities, credited U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson for playing a key role in the formation of the National Lakeshore.
At the suggestion of Mellen conservationist Martin Hanson, Nelson had asked President John F. Kennedy to consider the designation and gave him a fly-over tour upon the president's visit to Ashland on Sept. 24, 1963.
Kennedy was impressed, by all accounts, but the creation of the National Park wasn't as easy as waving a magic wand.
Drawing on his experience and cutting some deals, Nelson used all of his political acumen from his years as Wisconsin governor and later senator to get Congress to agree to the National Lakeshore, Mackreth said. Richard Nixon signed the act on Sept. 26, 1970.
"But the bottom line is he got it done — we got it done," Mackreth said.
A major part of the effort involved buying land from island residents, some of whom didn't want to sell. But the government had the upper hand with eminent domain, Mackreth said. The families were offered alternatives to selling immediately and could opt for a 25-year or natural life of the legal owner residency agreement, but at a lower, prorated price.
The proceedings engendered a lot of hard feelings with some of the families, but Mackreth's been spending his retirement years building bridges with them and said they now see the advantages of having the National Lakeshore.
The National Park was established to conserve nature, educate visitors and provide recreational outlets for the public. And judging by its popularity, it does just that.
On an average year the Apostle Islands and their lighthouses, camping and hiking opportunities, and water sports draw about 240,000, said Julie Van Stappen, chief of planning and resource management for the National Park Service.
That total, however, doesn't include the number of visitors who tramp over ice and snow during winter if the iconic ice caves are open. In 2014, they brought in about an additional 138,000 people over a period of just a couple of months, Van Stappen said.
The influx of tourists provided a much-needed influx of money for businesses during the lean winter months, and it exposed the park to an ever-growing fan base. The more people learn about the islands, the more people will care, Van Stappen said.
But the sea caves are but one piece of the Apostle Island's beautiful puzzle. The complete story of the islands lies in their combination of cultures — from Ojibwe to logging, fishing and farming — and natural beauty, said Erica Peterson, chair-woman of the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Although the National Lakeshore has existed for 50 years, there's room to build on its success — but it takes a little more cash than the federal government can provide.
That's where the nonprofit organization Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore steps in.
The group's challenge is to sustainably raise funds for the park, organize volunteers and find grants, Peterson said. It has managed to raise nearly $100,000 annual in recent years through grants and partnerships.
And partnering is important to the Friends.
"There's a strength in partnership that I've notice in my years as president and it's helping bring in a lot of money," Peterson said.
For the future, the Friends hope to improve relationships between communities and the National Lakeshore. And that's on top of the plans the group and the National Lakeshore are making to go ahead with celebrations in the upcoming year.
To celebrate the actual birthday on Saturday, the Friends is going to be delivering cupcakes and "virtual" cupcakes to business partners in the community, Peterson said. The group also will work with the National Park Service to arrange a yearlong series of events in 2021.
"We are very fortunate to be the caretakers of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and honored to be a part of engaging so many people in celebrating its legacy and future," Superintendent Lynne Dominy said. "As Wisconsin's only national lakeshore, Apostle Islands will spend the entire year celebrating what the lakeshore means to the residents of Wisconsin and the many visitors who travel here each year."
One of the main events will be the Apostle Islands Stewardship Symposium scheduled to be held virtually at the end of March.
"If by some magic we can have a safe event with people next to each other, we'll retool," Van Stappen said. She also hopes they will be able to host an event at Big Top Chautauqua next summer.
For more information about the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, visit nps.gov/apis or call 715-779-3398. Send 50th anniversary questions to email@example.com.