Fire danger very high in parts of U.P.

MARQUETTE — Recent rainfall has alleviated the hazardous dry conditions in some parts of the Upper Peninsula — however, the eastern U.P. remains quite dry, with fire danger listed as high to very high in much of the area.

“We did have some areas that got adequate rainfall to help alleviate some of the fire concerns, however, there are other areas where not much rain fell at all,” said Michigan Department of Natural Resources Deputy Public Information Officer John Pepin. “We still have concerns about the eastern Upper Peninsula particularly.”

The area east of Federal Forest Highway 13, which runs north-south between Nahma Junction in Delta County and the Munising area in Alger County, “would be the areas that didn’t receive enough rain for us to confidently remove our concerns about the fire dangers,” Pepin said.

Fires occurred in several areas in the eastern U.P. last week, including a 32-acre fire in the Hessel area that is requiring “extended mop-up efforts,” according to a press release from the Michigan DNR.

In the U.P., 58 fires have burned 252.9 acres this year — while this is an average to below-average year for fires so far, Pepin says, it’s critical to follow fire safety precautions and be mindful of the current dry conditions.

With dry conditions, it’s important to consider the fire risk of activities — when conditions are very dry, heat from a lawn mower, outdoor machinery and exhaust pipes can ignite dry grass, which can still appear green, DNR officials say, recommending the public avoid use of this equipment while conditions remain dry.

It’s critical to exercise caution when dealing with fire or equipment that has the potential to start a fire, Pepin said.

“Be extra cautious with fire,” Pepin said, “and always be concerned with your debris burning or undertaking other activities outdoors.”

This year, 38 percent of wildfires in Michigan have been caused by burning debris — burning debris is the most common cause of wildfires for many years, this year included, meaning it’s important to check conditions, seek a burn permit and exercise caution while burning debris.

“Most often in any given year, the largest percentage of fires are sparked by people and in general, debris burning,” Pepin said, adding “any additional care or concern that folks can give to the safety situation is very important.”

It’s important to make sure fires — and smoking materials — are completely extinguished.

“Make sure fires are out, if you have a campfire, making sure it’s extinguished completely, if you smoke, be careful where you throw cigarette butts,” Pepin said, adding that while these are “basic things,” improper fire practices can result in “significant damage to not only natural resources, but can threaten lives and property as well.”

It’s important to regularly check fire and burn permitting conditions before burning — as of today, open debris burning is not permitted in Schoolcraft, Luce, Chippewa, Mackinac, Delta, Menominee, Gogebic, Ontonagon, Houghton, Keeweenaw and Baraga counties, according to the DNR.

Campfires are still allowed, according to the DNR, but officials remind the public to follow normal fire safety precautions — keep water and/or sand available to put the fire out, never leave a fire unattended and ensure all fires are thoroughly extinguished.

For the most current information on burn permits, Pepin recommends calling the DNR or visiting http://www.dnr.state.mi.burnpermits. For the latest information on fire danger throughout the state, visit https://glff.mesowest.org/map/#/c4514,-8729,7/g0/mc/vadjc/s/n/zt.

Beyond man-made causes of fires, there are other causes of wildfires — such as lightning strikes, which have the potential to spark fires.

This makes it important to monitor areas where lightning has struck — especially when lightning was not accompanied by heavy rain, Pepin said.

“Our fire officers have looked at some lightning strike maps from storms that have gone through the area in the past couple days,” he said Friday, noting that DNR fire officers were vigilantly monitoring recent lighting strike areas in the eastern U.P.

Wildfires of any origin can be difficult to extinguish, especially when conditions are dry.

“The layer of decomposing leaves and grasses in the ground has dried out,” said Paul Rogers, fire prevention specialist with the DNR in a press release. “That means fires that do ignite will burn down into the soils layer, making it harder, and more time-consuming, to put the fire out.”

When fire fighters responded to a fire, they work to contain the fire “as soon as possible to keep them as small as possible,” Pepin says.

Containing and extinguishing wildfires often requires a coordinated response from multiple agencies, Pepin says.

“We work with local volunteer fire department in trying to (contain fires),” he said, adding “no one agency possesses all the means to battle significant wildfires, so there’s partnerships and compacts that are in place, regionally and across the country.”

During a particularly dry season, firefighting resources can be spread thin, and “strain on equipment and personnel available resources can often be a challenge,” Pepin said.

The most important thing the public can do to prevent fires, Pepin said, is to be conscious of the risks associated with fire and understand the safety precautions that can be taken.

“If you’re going to use fire in any way, it’s best to be mindful of the potential consequences and be mindful of the safety precautions you should take,” he said.

For more information on current fire conditions, burn permitting and fire management, visit: https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-350-79136_79237_80917–,00.html.

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