Jackson County remembers historic wildfire of 1977

By: Olga Michail
By: Olga Michail

BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) -- All the wildfires in the state are stirring up some memories in Jackson County where 36-years ago a massive fire burned up more than 17,000 acres of land.

The Brockway fire broke out just after noon on April 27th, 1977 by the Chicago Northwestern railroad tracks just outside of Black River Falls.
According to the DNR records, the Brockway fire is the largest fire in western Wisconsin in the recent history.

“You always hear people around town; you always hear them say: oh yea I remember the big one,” said the forestry specialist with the DNR Larry Whaley.

“I remember the fire very well; the vision of that black smoke over the skyline,” said Historian with the Jackson County Library, Mary Woods.

300 hundred firefighters helped battle the flames. Jeff Amos, who served as Assistant Chief of Black River Falls Fire Department at the time says he's never seen anything like it.

“Whenever you drive down the Interstate you’d think it would be the wide enough break that would stop the progress of any fire. And it’s surprised everybody I believed from the stories that I heard from firefighters who fought that fire; the fire just leaped across the highway as if the wide interstate wasn’t there,” said Whaley.

Several people were hurt in the fire. 14 building were destroyed and the damage was estimated at more than one million dollars.

“There was just so much destruction, I think; every time everyone drove by the areas that were burnt, I think it was just kind of a sad thing that all that beauty was gone,” said Woods.

“The effects of the fire like that are going to be significant and their going to last a long time. I transferred here in 1987 which was 10 years after the fire; there were still visible scars on the landscape from the Brockway fire,” said Whaley.

Today there is not much left to remind you of the historic fire, and nature continues to restore itself, but many who saw the Brockway fire, say they'll never forget the devastation.

“The Brockway fire is burned into the journals here in Black River Falls. It’ll always be a part of black river's history,” added Whaley.

The DNR says it deals with wildfires every spring season. And no matter how bad the fires get, sooner or later Mother Nature always finds a way to restore itself.

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