Tornado damage in near Wheaton/Elk Mound 9-25

Pictured is damage a day after a tornado touched down near Wheaton and Elk Mound.

ELK MOUND — Steve Nazer showed up at the Wheaton Fire Station on Thursday, bringing his four-wheeler and his 4-by-8-foot trailer, dressed to be in the field, ready to work.

Nazer, 42, of Eau Claire doesn’t know a single person who lives in the Wheaton neighborhood that was devastated by a EF3 tornado Tuesday night; he just knew he wanted to help. Nazer helped in the cleanup efforts on Wednesday as well.

“It’s cleaning up the farmers’ fields. Every 10 feet you walk, there are chunks of plywood and shingles all over,” he said. “I had a chainsaw (Wednesday), but everyone up here has a chainsaw.”

Nazer shrugged when asked why he was there, saying, “It’s gratifying.”

Hundreds of volunteers lined up Thursday morning at the fire station. The Chippewa County Department of Public Health was checking in all volunteers, handing out wristbands and instructions and reminding everyone to stay hydrated and check out whenever they opted to leave. Packed buses were bringing the volunteers to the damaged areas for massive trash and debris cleanup.

“They got it really organized,” Nazer said.

Public Health Director Angela Weideman was stunned as she looked out at a line of volunteers waiting to check in and get to work.

“I’ve shook hands with 500 people already, and they kept coming,” Weideman said. “The (Chippewa Valley Technical College) linemen crew showed up to volunteer, which is really cool.”

Weideman said volunteers aren’t just from the Chippewa Valley, as she met one man who came from Plymouth, Minnesota, to help out.

“There are a lot of former military folk, too,” she said. “It’s just awesome.”

Wheaton Fire Chief Adam Blaskowski also expressed appreciation for the large crowds.

“I’ve overwhelmed by the outreach from the community,” Blaskowski said. “It leaves me speechless, really it does. It really means a lot to everyone here, to help us recover.”

Blaskowski’s own home had significant roof damage, and he lost a shed that he uses for his business.

Dan Meyer of Elk Mound was organizing the meals for volunteers, saying businesses and restaurants such as Kwik Trip, Family Fare, Subway, 29 Pines and Loopy’s had provided food.

“There has been so much support from the community,” Meyer said. “People are bringing roasters of food.”

Paul Anderson, 35, of Strum also doesn’t know any of the people affected by the tornado, but he was at the fire station, bringing multiple pairs of work gloves.

“I work from home, and I didn’t have too much going on today,” Anderson explained. “I figured I’d come up here and do some good. If the same thing had happened to me, I’d hope to have some help.”

Carlie Martin, 26, of Chippewa Falls said she just wanted to give back to her community. She also wore boots, a jacket and had a bottle of water in hand as she prepared to get on a bus.

“I would hope someone would help me if my house was gone,” Martin said.

Gary Birkenmeier, 77, and his 75-year-old wife, Sharon, of Eau Claire also were there to walk fields and pick up trash.

“I was in a tornado when I was six years old in Ohio, and I remember it like it was yesterday,” Sharon Birkenmeier said. “I felt they needed the help.”

Gary Birkenmeier added: “It easily could have been us.”

Harold Wighton, 71, of Bloomer said he has a small airplane, and he flew over the tornado site on Wednesday.

“I could see all the debris. It goes for several miles to the northeast,” Wighton said. “I shot some video, but I got a good sense of how wide the debris field is.”

State Rep. Rob Summerfield, R-Bloomer, dressed in blue jeans, stood in line with the other volunteers. He said he just wanted to be as helpful as possible with the cleanup.

Cheryl Curtis, 61, of Stanley, said one of her friends lives in a home that sustained significant damage. She brought some needed cleanup supplies.

“She was just in a state, and I knew she needed me,” Curtis said. “She needs me more for emotional support than heavy lifting.”

The tornado touched down in Elk Mound around 7:43 p.m. and traveled east into Chippewa County, moving through the town of Wheaton and ending just west of Chippewa Falls, according to the National Weather Service. The tornado was on the ground for 4.3 miles, and it was a half-mile wide. A total of 1,520 acres were impacted, with 29 homes being damaged or destroyed. A total of 25 square miles was searched for people with injuries.

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