Michigan DNR warns of elevated wildfire potential this summer

Less Than Average Snowfall Totals Could Mean High Wildfire Danger in Michigan
Campers must take extra precaution with campfires

Winter in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and northern third of the Lower Peninsula saw less than average snowfall this year, which will likely mean high wildfire danger in the state, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Lesser amounts of snow in the UP and northern Lower Peninsula means snow-free conditions will occur earlier in the spring and there will be less moisture in the woodlands going into fire season, said Paul Kollmeyer, DNR’s fire prevention specialist based in Cadillac.

“Spring is wildfire season in Michigan. Dead grass and other vegetation are exposed when the snow melts, and quickly dry under windy warm conditions creating a tinder fuel that easily ignites,” Kollmeyer said. “This dead vegetation, coupled with a lack of moisture, creates a perfect mix for high wildfire danger.”

The long range forecast models for Michigan show expected average temperatures and rainfall for Michigan this spring, Kollmeyer said.

“It is always a day-to-day situation during spring fire season in Michigan,” Kollmeyer said. “Even if we have average temperatures and rainfall, there will always be several dry, windy days that cause problems if a fire happens to start in the right place at the right time.”

The DNR reminds Michigan citizens to use extreme caution with fire this spring, especially when doing yard or property cleanup work, or if enjoying a spring camping or hunting trip. Several significant wildfires in the past few years were started by these human activities. Consider composting or mulching brush and yard waste. Michigan State University County Extension offices, local garden clubs or local waste reduction authorities, are all good sources for information on composting.

“This year is another critical year for us in terms of wildfire suppression,” said DNR Director Rodney Stokes. “Weather conditions, historic low number of active fire officers and more people getting outdoors, all combine to make springtime in Michigan dangerous for wildfires. We need the public’s help to prevent wildfires, and urge everyone to do their part by using extreme caution when burning brush, leaves or enjoying a campfire.”

Kollmeyer reminds residents that burning brush legally in the state of Michigan requires a burn permit. In the Northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula property owners can obtain a free DNR burn permit online at www.michigan.gov/burnpermit. Persons without internet access can call toll-free at 866-922-2876. In southern Michigan, burn permits and information on burning can be obtained from local fire departments and township offices.

Campfire Safety
Spring outdoor activities many times include cooking and campfires. Without proper precaution, fires can escape causing a wildfire. The following tips can help prevent a fire from escaping:
  • Keep campfires small, and do not leave before they are extinguished. 
  • Clear away flammable material surrounding the fire so it cannot ignite dry vegetation. 
  • Be sure and douse with plenty of water, stir, and add more water until everything is wet. 
  • Turn over unburned pieces and wet the underside. 
  • Do not just cover a campfire with soil; it could smolder and remain hot for hours and then come back to life when everyone is gone. 
More Campfire Safety from SmokeyBear.com
Maintaining Your Campfire 
As you're enjoying your campfire, remember these safety tips:
  • Once you have a strong fire going, add larger pieces of dry wood to keep it burning steadily
  • Keep your fire to a manageable size (How many times have we seen campers with a bonfire!)
  • Make sure children and pets are supervised when near the fire
  • Never leave your campfire unattended
  • Never cut live trees or branches from live trees
Extinguishing Your Campfire 
When you're ready to put out your fire and call it a night, follow these guidelines:
  • Allow the wood to burn completely to ash, if possible
  • Pour lots of water on the fire, drown ALL embers, not just the red ones
  • Pour until hissing sound stops
  • Stir the campfire ashes and embers with a shovel
  • Scrape the sticks and logs to remove any embers
  • Stir and make sure everything is wet and they are cold to the touch
  • If you do not have water, use dirt. Mix enough dirt or sand with the embers. Continue adding and stirring until all material is cool. Remember: do NOT bury the fire as the fire will continue to smolder and could catch roots on fire that will eventually get to the surface and start a wildfire.
For more information on wildfire prevention in Michigan, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr-fire.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.