Today marks an anniversary most Upper Peninsula residents would like to forget. A year ago today, May 21, 2012, a lightening strike in the Newberry area ignited what would become the largest fire the state had seen in over three decades. In the end, the Duck Lake Fire caused an enormous amount of damage and loss. In all, 49 homes 58 outbuildings, two businesses and 26 campers were destroyed in the blaze. It cost $3 million to fight and took several weeks to finally bring the wildfire under control.
A year later, nature and man have begun to revitalize the area. Although signs of the fire remain and will remain for some time to come, new trees are being planted and growing. The charred landscape is starting its journey back.
The Duck Lake Fire was one of six that started from lightening strike that day. Another was located in the Seney area and also burned a large amount of acreage. The fires were able to develop because wildfire conditions were "very high" at the time.
Even though Mother Nature was to blame for these devastating fires, the cause could have very easily been people. U.P. residents are no strangers to conditions that are ripe for wildfires. High risks are typical in the spring when conditions are dry and before the landscape "greens up." The risk is also high during periods of drought like we have experienced in recent summers.
Don't think it can happen? Some residents may remember the Stockyard Fire a couple decades back in the area east of Rapid River. That fire literally jumped U.S. 2 and headed down the Stoning-ton Peninsula, threatening homes and forcing an evacuation of residents there. That fire started from the hot exhaust pipe of an ORV which ignited tall grass.
Hopefully the wet weather predicted this week will help diminish wildfire conditions locally. But with Memorial Day in sight and summer activities beginning, we all have to take extra care to guard against starting a fire while enjoying the outdoors.
Wildfires can and do happen here. They can cause a great deal of harm - just asked one of the people who lost their home in the Duck Lake Fire. Exercising caution and common sense are the first defense in preventing a destructive wildfire.