Big Flats, Wisconsin

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Big Flats, Wisconsin
Location of Big Flats, Wisconsin
Location of Big Flats, Wisconsin
Coordinates: 44°6′26″N 89°47′57″W / 44.10722°N 89.79917°W / 44.10722; -89.79917
Country  United States
State Wisconsin
County Adams
 • Type Town Board[1]
 • Town Chairman Dennis Tolley[1]
 • Town Supervisor 1 Raymond Quimby[1]
 • Town Supervisor 2 Todd Peterson[1]
 • Total 48.1 sq mi (124.6 km2)
 • Land 48.0 sq mi (124.2 km2)
 • Water 0.2 sq mi (0.4 km2)
Elevation[2] 1,001 ft (305 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 1,018
 • Density 21/sq mi (8.2/km2)
Time zone Central (CST) (UTC-6)
 • Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP Code 54613
Area code(s) 608
FIPS code 55-07300[3]
GNIS feature ID 1582809[2]

Big Flats is a town in Adams County in the U.S. state of Wisconsin. The population was 1,018 at the 2010 census.[4] The unincorporated community of Big Flats is located in the town.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 48.1 square miles (124.6 km2), of which 48.0 square miles (124.2 km2) is land and 0.15 square miles (0.4 km2), or 0.34%, is water.[4]


As of the census[3] of 2000, there were 946 people, 402 households, and 270 families residing in the town. The population density was 19.7 people per square mile (7.6/km2). There were 797 housing units at an average density of 16.6 per square mile (6.4/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 97.36% White, 0.53% African American, 0.63% Native American, 0.53% from other races, and 0.95% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.11% of the population.

There were 402 households out of which 20.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.5% were married couples living together, 6.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.6% were non-families. 25.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.35 and the average family size was 2.77.

In the town the population was spread out with 21.5% under the age of 18, 5.3% from 18 to 24, 23.2% from 25 to 44, 29.7% from 45 to 64, and 20.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 45 years. For every 100 females there were 109.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 111.1 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $27,800, and the median income for a family was $36,250. Males had a median income of $31,583 versus $21,806 for females. The per capita income for the town was $14,629. About 6.9% of families and 13.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 16.6% of those under age 18 and 5.5% of those age 65 or over.


The town of Big Flats was created on November 15, 1861, and the name was changed from Brownsville.[5]

Big Flats tornado[edit]

On the evening of August 27, 1994, the town of Big Flats was hit by an F3 tornado. It touched down at 8:41 P.M. CDT and was on the ground for 16 minutes. The tornado's path was 10.5 miles (16.9 km) long and 850 yards (780 m) wide.[6]

This tornado killed two people when their home was destroyed, and 22 people were injured. It also destroyed 24 homes, caused major damage to 8, and 160 had light to moderate damage. In addition, it destroyed the Big Flats Fire Department, the Town Hall, and a thrift store. Seventy cows were crushed when a barn roof and an upper floor containing 16,000 bales of hay collapsed. This tornado caused $1 million in damage.[6]

Cottonville Forest Fire[edit]

Big Flats was the site of a devastating wild fire, named the Cottonville Forest Fire, on May 5, 2005.[7] At 1:32 P.M. CDT, the Adams County dispatch center received a call reporting an out of control fire at 972 South Chicago Court. Thomas Barnhart lit a fire within a fire ring constructed of concrete blocks, attempting to burn off dead grass. The fire jumped out of the ring and began burning the grass in the surrounding area. He called for a friend, Dorothy Clark, and they unsuccessfully attempted to suppress the fire. They requested the help of a neighbor to report the fire.[8] Smoke from the fire was spotted by the fire tower in Rome's Dyracuse Park, and his call came in about 30 seconds prior to the first 911 call.[9]

After the fire escaped, it spread in a north to northeast direction,[8] following a 6-mile (10 km) stretch along the east side of Roche A Cri Creek.[10] By the time it was contained 11 hours later, the flames had spread about 10 miles (16 km) north to the area of Badger Avenue and east to about Sixth Avenue.[11] This forest fire burned approximately 3,410 acres (13.8 km2). There were 30 residences destroyed, 9 of which were permanent and 21 of which were seasonal. There was also approximately 60 other out-building structures destroyed. These other out-buildings varied from garden sheds to two car garages.[8]

About 177 firefighters from 20 fire departments responded, not counting the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) firefighters, who came from as far away as Hayward. Two DNR planes used to drop foam had to fly in from Minnesota. The firefighters were put in charge of protecting buildings, while DNR personnel handled the burning trees and vegetation. The DNR estimates that the efforts of the firefighters saved 300 buildings.[12]

Smoke from this fire was visible from 60 miles (97 km) away.[10] It was the biggest forest fire in Wisconsin since the Ekdall Church and Oak Lake Fires burned more than 16,000 acres (65 km2) in Washburn and Burnett counties from April 21–22, 1980.[10][13]

Thomas Barnhart was charged with setting a fire which becomes a forest fire, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not more than $1,000 or imprisonment not more than 90 days or both.[8] On January 6, 2006, he pled no contest to the charge and was sentenced to a local jail term of 90 days, which was stayed, 2 years of probation, 100 hours of community service, and $150 per month of restitution which is applied to uninsured expenses of the victims.[14] On November 13, 2006, the total amount of restitution owed was set at $1,436,504.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d "Town of Big Flats". Adams County. Retrieved 2007-11-30. 
  2. ^ a b "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  3. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  4. ^ a b "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (G001): Big Flats town, Adams County, Wisconsin". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Retrieved August 30, 2013. 
  5. ^ Wisconsin Historical Society-Big Flats, Wisconsin
  6. ^ a b Boyne, Jeff (2006-01-22). "Adams County (WI) Tornadoes 1850-2006". NOAA's National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  7. ^ "Cottonville fire anniversary sign unveiling at Big Flats" (Press release). Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 2006-04-20. Retrieved 2007-11-28. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Text of wildfire criminal complaint". Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune. 2005-05-26. Retrieved 2007-11-28. [dead link]
  9. ^ Madden, Karen (2005-05-26). "Towers first line of wildfire defense". Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune. Retrieved 2007-11-28. [dead link]
  10. ^ a b c Johnson, Annysa; Bergquist, Lee; Benson, Dan (2005-05-07). "Man using fire to clear land ignited Cottonville blaze". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 2007-11-29. [dead link]
  11. ^ "15 homes destroyed, fire source ID'd". Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune. 2005-05-06. Retrieved 2007-11-28. [dead link]
  12. ^ Madden, Karen (2005-05-11). "Fire chief describes 'the big one'". Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune. Retrieved 2007-11-28. [dead link]
  13. ^ "Ekdall Church-Oak Lake Fires". Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 2007-07-30. Archived from the original on 12 November 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  14. ^ "State of Wisconsin vs. Thomas J. Barnhart Charge(s)/Sentence(s)". Wisconsin Court System. 2006-01-06. Retrieved 2007-11-28. 
  15. ^ "State of Wisconsin vs. Thomas J. Barnhart Court Record Events". Wisconsin Court System. 2006-11-13. Retrieved 2007-11-28. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 44°06′43″N 89°48′28″W / 44.11194°N 89.80778°W / 44.11194; -89.80778