MARQUETTE - Two Upper Peninsula wildfires continued to burn Friday as firefighting crews from several departments worked to battle the blazes against high winds and dry conditions.
North of Newberry, the Duck Lake Fire had burned 17,935 acres, more than 28 square miles, as of Friday evening, said Dean Wilson, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources fire management west team.
The fire was considered to be 10 percent contained Friday evening, with fire officials expecting to make more progress today.
Image by Michigan Department of Natural Resources
"The suppression efforts today (Friday) went real well on the western flank and went OK on the eastern flank," Wilson said. "Today wasn't ideal, but it wasn't half bad. Until today, we couldn't get close to it."
Sparked by lightning Wednesday evening, the fire nearly doubled in size Thursday night, burning through the surrounding jack pine forest and forcing the evacuation of about 60 homes and camps along Pike Lake and east to Luce County Road 500.
Wilson said firefighting efforts were helped Friday by a helicopter and two water tank bombers.
"We held it and tomorrow it should be even better," he said Friday evening.
In addition, the fire also has temporarily closed the Tahquamenon Falls State Park due to heavy smoke, with DNR officials asking visitors to avoid the area over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
The park's Lower Falls campground and Upper Falls viewing area were closed Friday afternoon, with park staff relocating campers to either the Rivermouth campground or Muskallonge Lake State Park, which are both considered safe alternatives. Visitors have been evacuated from the falls area and the area has been barricaded to prevent others from entering.
Arriving campers - more than 100 - were contacted to cancel reservations with refunds or transfer to other parks.
Wilson said the park is not being threatened by the fire itself.
Heavy smoke also created problems on M-28, Friday, reducing visibility.
"It's like driving through the heaviest fog you've ever seen," Wilson said.
Greater progress is expected to be made today against the blaze.
"With the projected weather forecast, it's going to push the fire back onto itself," Wilson said. "We'll be able to get a lot of work done on the eastern flank, which was the part we were most concerned about."
Wilson said officials are still working to assess the number of structures that have been damaged by the fire.
In addition to the Duck Lake Fire, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials continued to work to contain a second large fire burning in the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. The Pine Creek North Fire, which also began by a lightning strike on Monday, is estimated to have burned 3,400 acres in the northeastern portion of the wildlife refuge in Schoolcraft County.
As of Friday evening, the fire was considered to be 70 percent contained, according to a press release.
Within the refuge, the Marshland Wildlife Drive and Pine Ridge Nature Trail were expected to reopen at 9 a.m. today. The Fishing Loop and areas north of M-2 Pool will remain closed to the public. Visitors to the refuge are encouraged to check in at the visitors center before going further into the area.
In addition to DNR and USFWS crews, eastern U.P. fire departments have joined the firefighting efforts.
Locally, the same high winds that made fire fighting efforts difficult also caused problems for local electric power supplier UPPCO Friday, as crews worked to restore power after power lines were knocked down by falling branches.
A fire off of South Camp Road in Ishpeming left 68 customers without power, with local fire departments asking the company to not re-energize the line until further notice. Restoration times are not available and additional strong winds could cause more outages.
UPPCO is reminding residents to stay away from down power lines and to treat them as if they were energized. Residents should not attempt to clear downed trees from areas near power lines and to stay away from situations that appear unsafe.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is email@example.com.