Last week the Advocate recalled the Oak Lake Fire and I’d like to correct a few things. I was the publisher and editor of The Advocate at the time and was in the field covering the event. I took the picture, credited as “File.” Pictured are John Scalzo in the plaid shirt and Rick Walker in the gray sweatshirt. (A garment not yet known as a “hoodie.”) We were looking north, across Cty. Hwy. E at Twin Oaks Bar & Grill as the flames advanced south, through a thick stand of pines.
There is no taking away from the firefighters’ heroics during the fire, but contrary to Bob Becker’s recollection, they did not keep the fire out of Stresau Laboratory. About an hour before this picture at Twin Oaks, I attempted to reach the west side of Dunn Lake where Stresau Laboratory was, and is, located. On Dunn Lake Road, just east of Medley Road (West Dunn Lake Road, then) I met one of the Spooner Fire Department’s trucks.
We couldn’t see flames from that vantage point, but smoke swept across the road, carried on the north wind that was driving the fire. Dick Koel was driving the Spooner volunteer’s rig. He rolled down his window and waved me to a stop as we met. I may have left a few words out, but the conversation went about like this.
“Don’t go in there!” he shouted over the rumbling engine.
“Why?” I shouted back.
“The fire is coming down on Stresau. We can’t stop it and are getting out the only way there is.” As he let out the clutch, he added, “You do what you like.”
I turned around and parked at Harriet’s Store where I learned the plan. The wind was expected to abate. The pine north of Hwy. E gave way to fields and hardwoods on the south side. Units were to be deployed along a two-mile stretch of Hwy. E to take advantage of this fire break. The units would stop the ground fires that crept to the road, and dash south to contain the fires that jumped the road.
Less than hour later the fire arrived at Twin Oaks’ back door. A fire truck positioned itself between the pines and Twin Oaks, dousing the building. When it got too warm there, it orbited the building, spraying water on it and the trees with each pass. This, while the flames in the “File” picture towered, saved that place.
However, the fire did burn across the Stresau campus destroying several production buildings, the machine shop, a storage magazine and Richard and Marion Stresau’s house. The explosives were, and are, carefully stored and segregated so that while they burned and popped there was no mass detonation.
The firefighting plan which took advantage of the land and the wind, worked. There were some incursions south of Hwy. E, but the front was controlled that evening and Spooner, nervous about its advance, relaxed.