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Bitter cold closes Mellen schools, reprieve approaches: DNR leasing turkey ground in 6 counties; more state news

Only one Wisconsin school district that was supposed to open today stayed closed during the bitter cold. Mellen schools in Ashland County were closed because of a broken water main. Several other school systems started classes two hours late -- smaller districts like Lomira, Wabeno, Sparta, and Westby.

The Milwaukee Public Schools and a number of others throughout Wisconsin are still on their holiday breaks. They may or may not re-open on Monday, depending on how cold it gets.

Meanwhile, almost 5,500 northern Wisconsin residents were without power on one of the coldest mornings of the season.

Wisconsin Public Service said around 2,000 customers were in the dark in Oconto County's Townsend area at 5 a.m. while Lakewood had 1,600 customers out, and Mountain 1,400. White Lake, Crivitz, and Suring also had a handful of outages on one of the coldest mornings of the winter.

It was between 16- and 21-below in the Rhinelander region at 5 a.m.

Public Service officials gave no indication of when the power could be restored. The state's other large utilities reported no outages Friday morning.

The snow has finally ended in southeast Wisconsin -- and folks who haven't shoveled it yet will face a bitterly-cold chore. The wind-chill was 23-below in Kenosha at 4 a.m., Friday. That's close to where 13-inches of lake-effect snow fell since New Year's Eve near Pleasant Prairie.

The National Weather Service says it will warm up Friday and Saturday with light snow and possible freezing drizzle. A strong cold front is then expected to pass over Wisconsin Saturday, leaving behind some of the coldest the state has seen in years.

The Weather Service says the entire state can expect 20- to 30-below temperatures by Monday morning, with wind-chills of 40-to-55 below.

Newspaper carrier credited with saving woman's life

KENOSHA -- A newspaper carrier in Kenosha started the New Year by saving an elderly woman's life.

Ralph Sustaita was delivering the Kenosha News when he heard a woman's voice -- and he then saw the woman lying in the snow.

The man wrapped a jacket around the woman -- who was said to be in her 80's -- and he then called for help.

The newspaper says she appears to be recovering from frost-bite and hypothermia. Sustaita told WITI TV in Milwaukee that the woman sounded lost and confused. Police said she lives close to where she was found -- and she had gone out for a walk.

Illinois woman is state's fourth snowmobile fatality

BLACK RIVER FALLS -- Wisconsin has recorded its fourth snowmobile death of the winter.

The victim was identified yesterday as Judi Nykaza, 68, of Grayslake Ill., northwest of Chicago. Jackson County sheriff's deputies were called Tuesday night about a missing snowmobiler near Millston.

They said Nykaza was riding with two others when she got separated from the group. Deputies and volunteers searched the area for over two hours, before passers-by reported finding the woman.

Nykaza was revived with CPR and a defibrillator, and was taken to a Black River Falls hospital where she died.

Fuel prices are still creeping up, but relief appears near

Gas prices are still creeping up in Wisconsin, but relief appears to be on the horizon.

rude oil futures dropped by $3 a barrel Thursday as U.S. benchmark crude for February deliveries dropped to $95.44 a barrel in New York. That's after crude oil jumped above $100 in recent weeks.

Wisconsin's American Automobile Assocation reported the statewide average for regular unleaded gas was $3.24 per gallon Thursday. That's up by 3.5 cents from a week ago, and it's up a dime over the past month.

Experts say part of the increase is due to a reduction in fuel inventories, to help oil companies cut their tax bills for last year.

Oil market analyst Jim Ritterbusch of Galena, Ill. says gas prices should bounce between $3 and 3.40 a gallon until spring -- when prices normally rise due to a change to summer fuel blends.

Barring flare-ups in the Middle East, Ritterbusch says we should see a relatively steady oil market for 2014. For now, he does not expect prices to jump to $4.

Gangs blamed for Milwaukee's 16 percent murder jump

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Police say gang fights are partially to blame for a 16 percent increase in murders during the year that just ended.

The state's largest city had 106 homicides in 2013, the most in eight years.

The numbers of murders spiked in August and September, when 35 slayings took place -- about a third of the total for the year.

Assistant Police Chief Kurt Leibold told the Journal Sentinel that the gangs were not necessarily fighting over gang turf.

He said most of the gang killings were caused by quote, "silly neighborhood disputes that erupted into violence."

Police officials responded by creating a list of gang leaders and targets who knew what was going on -- even if they were not suspects. The FBI assisted in the effort, and Leibold said those people are slowly being taken "out of the equation."

Police Chief Ed Flynn said it helped the killings level off for the rest of the year.

Two dead in holiday house fires

Authorities have identified two people killed in a pair of house fires in south central Wisconsin.

Carrie Gray, 33, of Sun Prairie was trapped in a burning home in Sun Prairie on New Year's Day. No one else was in the house. The cause remains undetermined.

The state Fire Marshal and Sun Prairie Police continue to investigate.

Meanwhile, Juneau County authorities have identified a man killed in a Christmas Day house fire near Wisconsin Dells as Richard Stechauner, 61.

Officials said a neighbor or a passerby managed to get the victim out of the house, which was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.

As of New Year's Day, the Kilbourn Fire Department said it could determine exactly where the fire started. There is no evidence of foul play.

Road-rage incident likely to result in charges

MADISON -- Two Janesville residents face possible criminal charges, after one of them allegedly pointed a handgun at another driver on Madison's Beltline.

It happened Wednesday afternoon. A 19-year-old motorist told police that he was merging onto the expressway with a window open, when a passenger in a pick-up truck tossed change through the window.

The 19-year-old followed the truck -- and when he got next to the vehicle, the 42-year-old male driver reportedly was pointing a gun at him.

A 51-year-old female passenger in the truck denied throwing the coins, and she said the other driver actually cut them off and flashed an obscene gesture.

Police said the woman had a knife in her handbag when she was arrested, and a loaded handgun was found in the truck.

The pickup driver was booked into the Dane County Jail on possible charges of reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct while armed, illegally carrying a concealed weapon, and possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. The woman was jailed and booked for concealed weapons' possession and disorderly conduct.

No injuries in overnight bar fire

WATERFORD -- No one was hurt when a cocktail lounge started on fire overnight in downtown Waterford in Racine County.

Racine County deputies were called to Martini Mo's just after 3:35 a.m., Friday.

Officials said a large amount of smoke appeared to originate in the building's basement. No injuries have been reported.

Fire crews were still on the scene a 7 a.m. and a detour was set up to keep motorists away from downtown Waterford.

Wipfli expands with purchase of Condon Group

WAUWATOSA -- The Wisconsin-based Wipfli accounting firm has acquired a company near Chicago.

Wipfli of Wauwatosa has bought The Condon Group of Tinley Park, Ill.

It has 20 partners and associates, serving mainly wealthy individuals and privately-held businesses.

It specializes in accounting services for manufacturing, real estate, and construction firms. The acquisition gives Wipfli 22 offices in the U.S. plus two in India.

Those offices have over 1,200 total employees.

Endangered whoopers near southern destination

A flock of endangered whooping cranes is growing in Louisiana, while a group of Wisconsin cranes are still one flight away from their migration destination.

Another flock of endangered whooping cranes is building in southwest Louisiana. Ten baby cranes arrived on New Year's Day at the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area. They're joining 23 other cranes in the wild.

The babies will get acclimated to their new surrounding by living in a 70-foot-wide pen with netting on top. It's protected by an electrified wire, so coyotes and bobcats don't get in. Meanwhile, eight baby cranes from Wisconsin are still one short flight away from their winter migration home at the St. Mark's Wildlife Area in Florida.

They've been stuck in Leon County Florida for most of the week, due to excessive winds.

Operation Migration now says a Saturday takeoff is possible. The eight birds took off from Green Lake in southern Wisconsin about three months ago, with the help of ultra-light pilots. Their migration is part of a 13-year effort to boost the populations of the whooping crane in the eastern U.S.

DNR will pay landowners to open turkey hunting ground in southeast Wisconsin

MADISON -- The state DNR will pay landowners, in an effort to open up more land for turkey hunting in southeast Wisconsin.

Officials are starting a pilot program in which landowners will get $5 an acre if they promise to make their land available for the spring turkey hunts in 2014, '15, and '16.

The deal applies to property in Ozaukee, Washington, Waukesha, Walworth, Kenosha, and Racine counties.

The DNR says it will give preference to sites of at least 40 acres, where at least half the properties are forest land.

Landowners have until Jan. 31st to sign up. More information is available at