By Bob Zientara

Four days after a heavy storm roared through Barron County, leaving behind it tens of thousands of downed trees, power lines and (in some cases) buildings, sheds and barns, the National Weather Service confirmed Tuesday, July 23, 2019, that the storm had included at least two tornadoes.

Winds were at or near 90 mph when the tornadoes were confirmed at a pair of locations near Turtle Lake early Friday evening. Those same winds were at or near tornado force when the storm leveled hundreds of trees and damaged buildings throughout the city of Barron.

Followed by a heavy rain that also included some hail, the storm left the city and surrounding rural areas devastated, felling century-old trees and leaving property owners with what seemed to be a hopeless tangle of limbs, trunks and debris.

Barron Electric Utility was able to reconnect much of the city by the end of the weekend, it was noted at an emergency meeting of the City Council on Tuesday evening, July 23.

“The only buildings (in the city) still without power appear to be those requiring electricians” to repair damaged equipment and/or lines and reconnect property owners to electrical power, City Administrator Elizabeth Jacobson told the council.

An update on the storm and its aftermath was scheduled to be delivered at noon today, July 24, by Mayor Ron Fladten, who will attend the weekly meeting of the Barron Kiwanis at Rolling Oaks Restaurant and Lounge.

City department heads will meet at 1 p.m. Thursday, July 25, to finalize a list of cleanup jobs that need to be done, she added.

On Friday and Saturday, July 26 and 27, people who want to volunteer for cleanup work should report to the Barron County Justice Center at 7 a.m., each of the two days, to register and be assigned to cleanup work, the council learned. Local residents who need help on their property can call the city and/or the county’s special telephone number, 211, to request volunteer help.

The signup process is explained in another story elsewhere in this week’s News-Shield.

Kevin Haller, council member, said the council Street Committee wants “the golf course, the parks and (Wayside) cemetery (to be cleaned up). But what about the elderly and other (local residents) who can’t take care of cleanup?”

The council was told that local residents should follow the city Facebook page to find out how to sign up for repair work.

“If you want to volunteer, you’ll be better off registering with Barron County,” Jacobson said. She said the registration process will help the city, county and other local governments to qualify for state and federal disaster aid.

By signing up, volunteers will help area governments with necessary documentation to file for disaster funds, Jacobson added.

“If you sign up, you’re doing a double favor by (doing the work) and documenting it,” she added.

‘It sounded like an explosion’

Local resident Jim “Red Dog” Selvig and his wife, Debra, had taken shelter Friday evening in the basement of their Basswood Avenue home during Friday’s storm when the couple heard what Jim Selvig described as “a loud explosion.”

An enormous oak tree had fallen on their bedroom.

“There were two or three feet of insulation on the basement steps, and there I was in my stocking feet,” Selvig said.

He found a pair of fishing boots and climbed the stairs through the wreckage.

“As soon as I got to the top of the stairs, I saw a six- to eight-inch tree branch sticking down through the kitchen ceiling,” he said.

Besides destroying the bedroom, the tree damaged “pretty much the whole south side of the house,” Selvig added.

After a tree removal company pulled the oak off the home, “the front of the place looks like nothing happened,” he said.

But, he said he thinks that after his insurance adjuster visits the house, “it’s probably going to be a total loss.”

The home was built in 1975 by Greg Roux, who was once a manager of Lampert Yards in Barron.

“We bought it in 1978 and have been there 41 years,” Selvig said.

For now, Jim and Deb are staying with their daughter, Brooke Halverson. But, he said, his wife’s family has offered to provide the couple with a fifth-wheel camper they can live in while the home is repaired and/or replaced.

Barron native Dale Prine, 929 E. Woodland Ave., returned to the city in December 1966 after he was away, working for American Breeders Service. He later went to work at Jerome Foods.

“We have lived here for 52 years, and I have never seen anything like this,” Prine said Tuesday, July 23. “The devastation in town is something I have never experienced.”

Like the Selvigs, Prine and his wife took shelter in their basement while the storm roared through Barron.

“We were extremely fortunate,” he said. “Other than some branches, we had hardly any damage at all.”

But in the days following the storm, Prine said, he was astonished to witness the volume of debris that was hauled to the city yard, just a couple blocks east of his home.

“I would bet that on Saturday and Sunday (July 20-21), we had 300-plus loads of brush go by our home,” he said. “But, if you went around town yesterday (July 22), it looked like no one had picked up anything.”

Wet weather adds to destruction

According to John Cisek, who serves as forester for Barron and other western Wisconsin counties, the Barron storm of July 19 ranks alongside the May 2017 Barron County tornado in terms of destructive force.

“I’ve been here since 2009 and don’t recall any windstorms (like it) aside from the tornado,” he said Monday, July 22.

He said large trees of any kind – especially those with large crowns -- are susceptible to wind damage and/or being knocked to the ground.

Cisek said the wet summer weather we’ve been having is another factor.

“The saturated ground conditions were definitely a factor” in the number of trees that came down, he added.

People who want to cut up their fallen trees and limbs for firewood should be prepared to store and dry the wood for a long time, according to Cisek.

“Ideally most species require two drying seasons,” he said. “Especially oak.

Trees can grow back – through natural or human means, he continued.

“In urban settings, replanting will be necessary,” Ciseksaid.

“In most forested settings, natural regeneration will suffice. Plantations that were severely damaged may need to be cleared and replanted.”

For information about forest lands, call the Barron County DNR Forester, Janette Cain, at (715) 410 – 8317.

Power restoration continues

The task of restoring power to thousands of rural customers is taking time, according to a press release from Barron Electric Cooperative.

General Manager Dallas Sloan said the damage July 19 “was more extensive than the 2017 tornado,” caused in part by the fact that the storm took down 70 power poles across the company’s service area.

Sloan invited Barron Electric members to sign up at the company website for text messages. They can also use an interactive map to find the location of continued outages.

Helping with the power restoration effort are crews from Bayfield, Chippewa Valley, Jump River, Eau Claire, Pierce Pepin, and St Croix cooperatives, as well as Rice Lake Utilities, PUSH, and Zielies Tree Service.

The cleanup and documentation effort will go forward, Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said Monday, July 22.

He said there were no reported injuries in connection with the storm, despite the massive destruction of trees and property

Mike Judy, director of Barron County Emergency Services, “is working with townships, villages and cities to see if they meet the threshold for a (federal disaster0 declaration,” Fitzgerald said.