Detectives say witnesses to bonfire explosion will not be cited for underage drinking

Ash from a bonfire where an explosion injured 30 to 40 young people
Ash from a bonfire where an explosion injured 30 to 40 young people
Published: Oct. 18, 2022 at 12:18 PM CDT
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PULASKI, Wis. (WBAY) - Detectives are assuring witnesses to a bonfire explosion Shawano County that they will not be cited for underage drinking if they come forward with information about the “tragic event.”

The Shawano County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Friday’s bonfire explosion that happened in Maple Grove. Many people there were current or former students at Pulaski High School. They were celebrating homecoming.

Detectives believe 30-40 people were at the bonfire. Some suffered serious burns and were hospitalized.

“Multiple parties have come forward to speak to us, but we know there are more parties who were there, who we still need to speak with,” reads a statement from the Sheriff’s Office. “We understand there may be some apprehension for some to meet with us based on the evidence of underage drinking, and although underage drinking is something law enforcement agencies take seriously, we can assure those who were there, that our detectives do not have intentions on issuing citations for this, as our main focus and concern is gathering the facts of this tragic event.”

Shawano County detectives will be at the Pulaski Police Department Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. They’re asking witnesses to come forward.

“We appreciate your patience, and we understand the severity of what has happened. We ask that you continue to have patience with our agency as this is an ongoing, and extensive investigation. Due to the fact we know of approximately 30- 40 individuals being present, it is going to take some time for our detectives to gather all necessary statements,” officials say.

According to investigators, a group of young people had been celebrating homecoming at a bonfire on a property on Cedar Dr. in the town of Maple Grove, where it’s believed someone threw a 55-gallon drum of a diesel and regular gasoline mix onto the fire.

A witness told Action 2 News as soon as the drum hit the fire, a giant mushroom cloud rose into the air and the spout of the drum, which was pointed sideways, spewed fire like a flame thrower.

The witness said like a horror movie victims were running around, burning, rolling on the ground, trying to put their fire out.

“No one called 911,” Lt. Madle 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.”

Investigators aren’t at the point where they believe there was any criminal intent to cause injury but 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.

If you’d like to speak to detectives, you can call the Shawano County Sheriff’s Office at (715) 526-3111.