You'd have been hard-pressed to pick up a newspaper or watch a newscast during the past week and not see coverage of wildfires raging in the Upper Peninsula.
From the Duck Lake Fire - which as of Thursday morning had burned 21,458 acres in Luce County and destroyed more than 132 structures - to the Seney Wildlife Refuge fire in Schoolcraft County and other smaller fires popping up across the entire U.P., Department of Natural Resources fire suppression crews and volunteer fire departments have been much busier than usual during the last weeks of May, working round-the-clock to get these fires under control.
Lack of moisture this spring, on the heels of a low snowfall winter, has led to extremely dry conditions in the U.P.'s fields and forests. Thunderstorms that promised needed rain brought something else much less welcome: lightning strikes that ignited a multitude of fires, some that were quickly whipped into large blazes by the wind.
Considering the high potential for additional wildfires, and the fact that fire resource equipment and personnel are already stretched to the limit during this exceptionally busy fire season, Gov. Rick Snyder ordered an outdoor burning ban on May 25.
The burning ban includes all 15 U.P. counties, along with 34 in the northern Lower Peninsula, and will remain in place until fire danger conditions change significantly enough to reduce the risk of wildfire, or until June 21.
Although some folks may see a "Low" fire danger reading on the local Smokey Bear signs after receiving rainfall, those signs should not be misinterpreted as a reversal of the burning ban.
DNR fire prevention specialists predict it will take several significant rainfall events before moisture levels in the forests begin returning to more normal levels.
Anyone with questions about the burning ban should contact their local DNR office for assistance or check out the DNR's burn permit web page at michigan.gov/ burnpermit.
The outdoor burning ban prohibits the following on or adjacent to forest lands: Open burning of any flammable materials; burning debris in a burn barrel; having a campfire (except at authorized campgrounds within a metal or masonry campfire ring or at a private residence); and smoking a cigarette, cigar or pipe (except at a private residence, at an authorized campground or within a vehicle). The burning ban also prohibits the use of fireworks in Luce and Schoolcraft counties.
In addition to the burning activities that are explicitly banned, DNR officials are asking residents and visitors in all parts of the state to avoid any type of outdoor burning or use of fireworks to help prevent additional wildfires this season. It bears pointing out that a violation of the burning ban is a misdemeanor, and anyone responsible for starting a wildfire is liable for the cost of suppressing the fire.
The good news is that even with the burning ban in place, outdoor recreation activities can still be enjoyed this summer by following these basic fire safety rules:
Be prepared and use a barbeque grill or camping stove when cooking outdoors.
Have water available in case a spark or ember escapes and lands in dry vegetation.
Don't discard ashes from a barbeque grill without soaking them in water. (They remain hot enough to start a fire for many hours afterwards.)
Properly maintain equipment by checking the exhausts on ORVs, chainsaws and other outdoor power equipment. Anything causing a spark could start a wildfire.
Smokers should always use an ashtray while in a vehicle and never light up in a wooded area.
Everyone's support and cooperation as our fire suppression crews work to protect the state's natural resources during this year's unusually dry wildfire season is appreciated by many! For additional information on wildfire prevention, including home protection ideas and safe burning tips, visit michigan.gov/preventwildfires.
To learn more about the Duck Lake Wildfire and how you can help donate needed items or services, please see the daily updates on the DNR web page at michigan.gov/dnr or visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/midnr.
Debbie Munson Badini is the DNR's Upper Peninsula communications representative. Contact her at 906-226-1352, munsonbadinid@ michigan.gov or on Twitter @michiganDNR _UP.