Dozens Injured When Wisconsin Bonfire Explodes

by Sean Griffin
(Photo by BorjaB.Hojas/COOLMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Shawano County officials are hoping for people to come forward with information about a horrific bonfire explosion that injured dozens of young people.

The incident occurred near Pulaski. The school district has made students aware of counseling and grief services.

Multiple detectives have been assigned to the case. According to the sheriff’s office, the Pulaski Community School District said officers and detectives will not be allowed to conduct interviews at schools in the district.

“The sheriff’s office is attempting to, and wants to gather as much information as possible regarding this case, which includes statements and possible videos to show what happened at this tragic event,” reads a statement from Chief Deputy George Lenzner, Shawano County Sheriff’s Office.

“We just want to figure out what happened. We want closure just like the Pulaski community does, so we’re not concerned about giving underage drinking tickets, we’re not concerned about that, we’re concerned about finding out what happened,” Lt. Chris Madle of the sheriff’s office told us.

According to investigators, a large group of young people celebrated their homecoming at a bonfire. The bonfire occurred on a property on Cedar Dr. in the town of Maple Grove. It’s believed someone threw a 55-gallon drum of a diesel and regular gasoline mix onto the fire.

A witness said that a giant mushroom cloud rose into the air when the drum impacted the fire. The spout of the drum, pointed sideways, spewed fire like a flame thrower.

The witness said it was similar to a horror film. Reportedly, victims were running around on fire. Many then rolled on the ground, trying to put out the fire.

Sheriff’s Office Talks About Bonfire

The department estimates there were between 30 and 40 victims at the end of the day. However, Shawano County authorities only learned about the explosion in the early morning hours of Saturday, Oct. 15. They learned after victims started showing up at Green Bay-area hospitals.

“No one called 911,” Lt. Madle said of the sheriff’s office said. “We don’t know exactly why, but everyone self-transported to the hospital. At least Green Bay was smart enough to give us a call and say, ‘Hey, you might want to look into this.’ So, that’s how we got involved.”

Detectives estimate around 17 victims drove themselves to hospitals in the area. Some injuries are described as “critical,” while other victims have been released.

Authorities have been able to speak with several victims, witnesses, and the property owner. Detectives know more people attended the bonfire than they’ve spoken with. The sheriff’s office believes several witnesses weren’t hurt that they haven’t spoken with.

Investigators don’t yet believe there was any criminal intent to cause injury at the fire. However, there might be other charges forthcoming. “There are statutes about mishandling of burning materials, reckless endangering safety. I don’t want to go to conclusions about what will happen, but based on statements, it could point that direction one day,” Madle said.