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Get your yard ready for wildfire season

Pruning tree limbs helps keep grass fires from climbing up into trees and spreading to your home.

As you enjoy the first rays of spring sunshine and begin to dust off garden tools, take a fresh look at your yard through the eyes of a firefighter. Whether you live in a forest or in a neighborhood, a few key actions can reduce wildfire risk to your home. 

 Whether you live in a forest or in a neighborhood, a few key actions can reduce wildfire risk to your home.

“The first thing a firefighter will look for is how easy it is to find a home in a wildfire situation,” said DNR fire prevention specialist Paul Rogers. “Stand at the end of your driveway and check to see that your house numbers are clearly visible. They should be mounted on a reflective background so they can be seen in dark or smoky conditions.”

While standing in that spot, take a look at the driveway itself. To accommodate a fire engine, driveways should be 15 feet across, with overhanging branches trimmed 15 feet up for clearance.

“Trees should be pruned of limbs 6 feet from the ground or higher,” said Rogers. “This helps prevent grass fires from climbing up into the canopy. Canopy fires are dangerous because airborne embers and sparks from the crowns of trees can land on the roofs of homes and ignite.”

Tree limbs should not hang over the roof of a home. If trees are packed tightly together and branches are touching, consider thinning them out to put distance between them.

Around a home is a critical 30-foot zone where landscaping influences fire risk. When pruning and raking, dispose of brush beyond this zone to prevent buildup of flammable fuels.

Closer to the house, keep an eye out for potential fuel sources. Never stack firewood or tires directly next to your home. If ignited, these fuel piles burn hot and fast and can be a danger to your house. Gutters should be cleaned out in the fall and spring. Most exterior home fires are started by embers floating on the wind, and a gutter full of dry leaves and pine needles can easily ignite. 

Long-term investments in fire safety can include removing conifer trees in the 30-foot zone, replacing an older roof with a metal one and separating areas of the yard with hard paths to act as fuel breaks. A fuel break is an area that will not burn, such as a sidewalk or driveway, which can bring a scorching ground fire to a halt. These actions are highly recommended in fire-prone areas such as jack pine forests.

Find more fire prevention information at Michigan.gov/PreventWildfires or the National Fire Protection Association.

Questions? Contact Paul Rogers at 616-260-8406.

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Wildfire season is here

This wildfire started a house on fire in Nelson Township 5 years ago last week.

This wildfire started a house on fire in Nelson Township 5 years ago last week.

Wildfire prevention week April 20-26


Most of Michigan’s wildfires occur in the spring – April, May and June. According to the Department of Natural Resources, which is responsible for wildland fire protection on 30 million acres of state and private land, April is when wildfires start becoming a problem. During the state’s annual observance of Wildfire Prevention Week, April 20-26, the DNR reminds the public about the dangers of wildfires.

“One out of three wildfires in Michigan is caused by someone burning debris who did not take proper precautions or obtain a burn permit,” said Paul Kollmeyer, resource protection manager within the DNR’s Forest Resources Division. “Many people look outside and think the snow and spring rains have taken the edge off the wildfire danger.”

That’s not the case, Kollmeyer said.

“The dried leaves, needles and brown grass from last year are still there. When the weather is warm, folks want to get out and clean up their yards. They don’t realize that all it takes is one strong wind gust catching an ember to ignite a wildfire.”

Kollmeyer said this is why planning is so vital before a match is even lit.
A person is required to get a burn permit prior to burning brush and debris in Michigan. Residents in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula can obtain a free burn permit by www.michigan.gov/burnpermit. Residents in southern Michigan should contact their local fire department or township office to see if burning is permitted in their area.

In addition to obtaining a burn permit, the DNR recommends people take the following steps to reduce the risk of wildfire to their home and property:

Clear leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches and decks. This prevents embers from igniting your home.

Keep your lawn hydrated and maintained. Dry grass and shrubs are fuel for wildfire. If it is brown, cut it down to reduce fire intensity.

Remove fuel within 3 to 5 feet of your home’s foundation and out-buildings, including garages and sheds. If it can catch fire, don’t let it touch your house, deck or porch.

Remove dead vegetation surrounding your home, within the 30- to 100-foot area.

Wildfire can spread to tree tops. If you have large trees on your property, prune them so the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet high.

Don’t let debris and lawn cuttings linger. Chip or mulch these items quickly to reduce fuel for fire.

When planting, choose slow-growing, carefully placed shrubs and trees so the area can be more easily maintained.

Landscape with native and less flammable plants. For more information about making fire wise landscaping choices, visit www.firewise.msu.edu.

“Be safe and smart when it comes to fire,” Kollmeyer said. “Fire prevention is everyone’s responsibility.”

For more tips in safeguarding your home and property from wildfire risk, www.michigan.gov/preventwildfires.


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Duck Lake fire contained

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reported yesterday, June 13, that roughly three weeks after it started with a lightning strike in the eastern Upper Peninsula’s Luce County, the Duck Lake Fire is now 100 percent contained. Recent GPS data show the fire stands at 21,069 acres.

The south end of the fire is 14 miles north of Newberry and 7 miles west of Tahquamenon Falls State Park campgrounds. The lighting-strike caused fire, which was first detected on Thursday, May 24, is long and narrow and stretches 11 miles north to the Lake Superior shoreline. In all, fire crews constructed more than 42.6 miles of contained fireline.


Over 100 structures were lost in the Duck Lake Fire in the Upper Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Michigan DNR

DNR officials expect the on-scene incident commander will return to his home unit today, and the Duck Lake Fire incident team will go into “patrol” status, meaning the fire will be monitored daily with local equipment.

“Wildfire season is tough, no question. We continually prepare for this time of year, but also hope the need for firefighting resources will be low,” said Bill O’Neill, acting chief of the DNR’s Forest Resources Division. “With the Duck Lake Fire, that just wasn’t the case. Weather conditions helped turn this into an unpredictable, fast-growing fire. However, we’re grateful that we’ve achieved containment without loss of life or injury to any firefighters or citizens.”

O’Neill praised the many agencies and organizations that provided tremendous help in battling the blaze or supporting fire crews. These include the Michigan National Guard, Michigan State Police, Michigan State Police Emergency Management, Luce County Sheriff’s Department, Red Cross, Luce County Emergency Management, Chippewa County Sheriff’s Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Wisconsin DNR, Minnesota DNR, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Beartown and UPCAP (211).

In all, there were 141 properties within the perimeter of the fire. Of those, a total of 136 structures were lost (with a breakdown as follows):

49 homes/cabins (including a store and a motel)
23 garages
38 sheds/outbuildings
26 campers
A total of 57 personnel (of which 19 are overhead personnel) remain on the Duck Lake Fire.

Today, crews plan to:
Grid for hot spots and mop up 200 feet inside the fireline;
Prepare for timber salvage; and
Assess ORV trails for damage and mitigation.
The DNR reported that although all roads in the fire area are now open to the public, the Two-Hearted ORV trail is closed indefinitely east of County Road 414 due to fire damage to trails and safety signs.

Area residents lined the streets of Newberry on May 27 to welcome home returning firefighters–a wonderful sight for the hard-working crews!

A special note about area tourism and businesses: The DNR reminds the public that the Tahquamenon Falls/Paradise Area is open for business. With 100-percent containment on the Duck Lake Fire, campgrounds, state parks, resorts and other businesses throughout the region and the Upper Peninsula are open and eager to welcome tourists. While visitors are asked to stay clear of ongoing fire-monitoring efforts, the rest of the U.P. stands ready to offer up Pure Michigan vacation memories.
The DNR strongly encourages all residents and visitors in all parts of the state to exercise caution with open burning and use of fireworks during this high fire-danger season to minimize the possibility of more wildfires. For wildfire prevention tips, visit www.michigan.gov/preventwildfires.

For more information on the Duck Lake Fire situation, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr (where you can sign up for wildfire incident updates via email or text message) or follow www.twitter.com/michiganDNR, www.twitter.com/michiganDNR_UP or www.facebook.com/miDNR.

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Yard waste burns out of control

The Cedar Springs Fire Department works to put out any hotspots after a grassfire at this home on 18 Mile in Nelson Township Tuesday. Post photo by J. Reed.

It’s wildfire season in Michigan

The Cedar Springs Fire Department responded to their first grass fire of the season Tuesday, April 12, shortly after 6 p.m. in Nelson Township.
The call came in saying that the backyard and side yard were burning at 5316 18 Mile Rd, just west of Ritchie.
According to Cedar Springs Fire Chief Jerry Gross, the homeowner was burning yard waste that got out control. There was no burn permit registered to the residence.
“It’s just dry enough, and not yet green enough, that conditions are right for this to happen,” said Chief Gross. “We were lucky that the wind was in our favor.”
Then on Wednesday, April 13, Solon Township, Cedar Springs, and Sand Lake Fire Departments all fought a fire on Algoma, between 20 and 21 Mile. That call came in about 2:15, saying that a truck, trailer with a propane tank, RV, and the grass was all on fire and spreading. The departments got it under control quickly, but it was close to press time, and Solon Deputy Fire Chief Brian VanderLaan did not yet have details on how the fire started.
Grass fires were popping up all over Kent County Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Department of Natural Resources issued a bulletin last week about the danger of wildfires right now. “Spring is wildfire season in Michigan,” said Paul Kollmeyer, DNR’s fire prevention specialist based in Cadillac. “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. 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, he noted.
“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 southern Michigan, burn permits and information on burning can be obtained from local fire departments and township offices.
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.
For more information on wildfire prevention in Michigan, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr-fire.

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Settlement reached in 2008 wildfire near Grayling

The Department of Natural Resources and Environment announced that a Saginaw- based railroad company will reimburse $274,209 to the state and other agencies for fire suppression costs and damages resulting from wildfires occurring along its rail tracks in April of 2008.

The Four Mile fire – the largest among those for which the Attorney General brought charges — threatened the city of Grayling, burned several structures and charred 1,300 surrounding acres. That wildfire also closed Interstate 75 and cut off power to much of the area.

Lake State Railway pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of operating equipment without a spark arrestor in both Arenac and Crawford counties. A more serious charge of willfully setting fires was dismissed. Judges in each county imposed fines which together totaled $1,250 and placed Lake State on probation for one year while also ordering them to follow fire prevention guidelines laid out in a plan designed to reduce the chances wildfires will occur through future railway operations.

“We are pleased with the outcome,” said Lynne Boyd, chief of DNRE’s Forest Management Division Chief “Each fire department and police agency responding to the Four Mile fire will recover their costs.  The DNRE will receive compensation of $155,000 in suppression expenses and $76,000 for a destroyed vehicle and timber damaged on state land.”

Boyd went on to point out the importance of the wildfire prevention plan, saying, “The preventive actions agreed to include a number of measures which will reduce the risk of wildfires starting along the railroad tracks.” She added, “Lake State Railway has shown an increased dedication to preventing wildfires by implementing many portions of the plan even prior to the courts’ final rulings.”

A separate civil case against Lake State involving additional private property damage is still pending in Crawford County.

For more information about wildfires in Michigan, including prevention tips and information, go to  www.michigan.gov/firemanagement.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environment is committed to the conservation, protection, management, and accessible use and enjoyment of the state’s environment, natural resources, and related economic interests for current and future generations. Learn more at www.michigan.gov/dnre.

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Kent County Credit Union
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