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Wisconsin bonfire explosion investigators: Underage drinkers won't be ticketed

Posted at 12:47 PM, Oct 19, 2022

MILWAUKEE — Authorities in Wisconsin continue to investigate after 17 people were injured when a bonfire exploded early Saturday morning in the Town of Maple Grove.

In a news release, the Shawano County Sheriff’s Office said about 30 to 40 people were at the gathering just outside Green Bay when it exploded.

TMJ4 reported people came together to celebrate after the Pulaski High School homecoming football game.

According to the Associated Press, investigators believe the explosion may have occurred after someone rolled a drum filled with diesel fuel into the flames.

The sheriff's office said those who were injured self-transported themselves to local hospitals after the explosion.

On Tuesday, the sheriff's office said they are still looking to talk to witnesses, adding they have no intention of citing people for underage drinking.

"We understand there may be some apprehension for some to meet with us based on the evidence of underage drinking," the sheriff's office said in a statement. "Although underage drinking is something law enforcement agencies take seriously, we can assure you, 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."

According to TMJ4, five of the victims are having burns treated at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee.

TMJ4 reported that the Pulaski School District informed the sheriff's office Monday that they won't be allowed to conduct interviews at the schools.

The district said it's cooperating with law enforcement, but it also says its responsibility is to focus on maintaining the educational environment of Pulaski schools, the news outlet reported.

All five are on the fifth floor, which brings some peace to their families, who say they are getting through this together.

Lily Koellner from Brookfield is studying to be a firefighter and EMT. She has serious burns on her face, hands, and legs. She was visiting friends in Pulaski.

Brandon Brzeczkowski will undergo skin graft surgery on Wednesday. His mom, Tammy, says doctors are still trying to make sure he doesn't lose his hands.

With a breathing tube in, he must write what he wants to say. Tammy got a heartbreaking message from him saying, "I want to go home."

Isaac Nelson is also scheduled for his first surgery on Wednesday.

Similar to his friends, he will face many more in the weeks ahead. His mom, Julie, shares that he was able to walk a little and eat for the first time since the bonfire explosion.

Benjamin Van Asten was knocked unconscious when it happened, and his clothes caught on fire. He has burns on over 40% of his body

Kiera Duchateau, the youngest of the kids injured in the incident and being treated in Milwaukee, is a sophomore in high school. She has severe burns on her face, hands, legs, and feet.

"There's just people all over that are trying to reach out and help in any way they can," Mallory Kitchen shared.

There are individual fundraisers for all of these kids, and Kitchen started a collective one.

"When something affects a small town like this, everybody finds out about it very quickly," Kitchen said. "In some of the social media groups, people are like, 'how can we help? What can we do?'"

The money she raises will go to helping those being treated in Milwaukee pay for gas, hotels, and meals. Many of their parents have other children still at home in Pulaski.

"Providing meals for their family still here as these parents are now split between their home and their child that really needs them right now," Kitchen said.

Two young men from Pulaski have been released from the burn unit in Milwaukee and are back home.

They will still be traveling over the next month for skin graph surgeries. One of them said in a post online that he was in a lot of pain.

Katie Crowther at TMJ4 first reported this story.