TRAVERSE CITY (AP) - Michigan has had three times the number of wildfires so far this year, and a state expert says an elevated fire risk may last into the fall even if cooler and wetter conditions set in.
Hot and dry conditions this year have contributed to a sharp rise in wildfires to about 460 this year. That's the highest since 2005, when 498 wildfires had been reported by this time of year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said.
Michigan had 155 reported wildfires by this time in 2011, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported Sunday.
Intense heat and a lack of rain have turned the Grand Traverse area into a tinderbox, according to DNR wildfire prevention specialist Paul Kollmeyer. He said the fire risk likely will remain high for at least several weeks, even with rain and cooler weather.
Kollmeyer says extreme heat has coupled with the relative lack of rain to make debris, wood and layers of soil much dryer than normal.
With the dry conditions, fires penetrate the land and are consequently much more difficult to extinguish, he said.
At a glance
Hot and dry conditions this year have contributed to a sharp rise in wildfires to about 460 this year.
That's the highest since 2005, when 498 wildfires had been reported by this time of year.
Michigan had 155 reported wildfires by this time in 2011.
"If you get a fire, it still may be a relatively small fire, but it's taking a lot more work because you can't put them out that easily," he said.
This fire season has been a tough one for members of the Grand Traverse Rural Fire Department, said Rebecca Pruyne, the agency's health and safety officer.
"We're always on that train of thought: 'Boy, we could really get something today, we need to be alert,'" she said.
Pruyne and Kollmeyer said public education is key to limiting wildfires, because people cause most of them.
Should conditions stay dry, people should be aware of the fire risk before they start burning leaves and other waste this fall, Kollmeyer said.
"Debris burning is our biggest cause of fire," he said. "It's been that way for decades."