WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES (WDNR)
By Joanne M. Haas, WDNR Bureau of Law Enforcement
WDNR wardens equipped with boats, training and a lot of guts rescued residents and pets from flooded Vernon County homes Tuesday night when the Kickapoo River roared into La Farge and Viola with a fury and force that unearthed buildings, fuel tanks, electric lines and more.
Tuesday, August 28, was another in a string of late August days punctuated by record rainfalls, damaging storms, historic floods, property damages and tragically one death in a flooding intersection in southern Wisconsin. On August 28, the storm line had targeted the southwestern counties – namely Vernon County. And precisely – La Farge and Viola, two rural communities of about 700 each along the Kickapoo River.
Wardens Cody Adams, Shawna Stringham, Ed McCann and Aaron Koshatka responded to call after call to help stranded residents and their dogs in what all say now ranks among their top scariest missions of their careers.
New Warden Aaron, in his third week with Warden Cody, says he went into the Viola rescue missions with tremendous confidence in the other veteran wardens. “This was an eye-opener,” he said of the mission, adding his role was to sit in front of Warden Cody’s airboat to watch in the dark for obstacles. “Cody’s airboat sits so high in the water that the power lines were right over our heads as we passed.”
Warden Cody Adams, having grown up in the southwestern Wisconsin area, has seen his share of flood rescues in his 10 years as a DNR conservation warden. But this?
I have never seen anything like this in Viola,” he said. “And the Viola Fire Department was incredible. We never would have been able to do the rescues without them.”
Make that, passed under the wires in the dark of night in fast-moving flood waters with moving obstacles.
FIRST STOP: La Farge
While the wardens were staged in locations for flood response during daylight hours, it wasn’t until close to sunset and after that the calls for help flowed in from both communities. But things got going earlier in La Farge where Wardens Ed McCann and Shawna Stringham were staged.
It was mid-afternoon when the Vernon County dispatch called for help from the two wardens – skilled in water rescues thanks to their countless hours patrolling the Mississippi River. The wardens, along with their shallow water boat with the mud motor, were asked to respond to La Farge when flood waters were overwhelming the village.
Warden Ed had driven to — and through — LaFarge before, but that was in his truck… and on dry land.
“I have never driven my boat in a city before. The water was raging. It was moving fast – like rapids,” Warden Ed said of the conditions he and Warden Shawna faced.
Warden Shawna agrees, saying operating a shallow boat in swift water is nothing like driving a boat in smoother waters. First of all in these conditions you have to find a place to launch. Forget the docks.
“We put the boat in just off the highway,” she said. “You have to know what you are doing in these conditions. There were electric lines coming in the water all around – and things like propane tanks going by.”
Both wardens use ‘scary’ to describe the scene. But, they didn’t really have any time to worry about fear. They just followed their mission which was simple: save people.
Their first stop was to get three adults and a dog out of a home and back to the dry land. Then right back out to get another adult and another dog. The two wardens asked about the other residences. No one was sure if anyone was inside, so they started checking homes themselves, and came upon a mother and her two kids who needed help.
Learn more about rescue and emergency planning: