MARQUETTE - With weather conditions ripe for producing wildfires, Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials were reminding the public to be careful with fire this holiday weekend.
"Our forests will be heavily visited throughout the state by residents and travelers looking to make the most of the weather and our last summer holiday," said Bill O'Neill, chief of the DNR's Forest Resources Division. "Fire danger has been high since the spring and low moisture means that people should be extra cautious when enjoying outdoor activities that include fires. We are urging everyone to be safe during the long weekend to reduce the chance of a small fire escaping to become a wildfire."
National Weather Service forecasters released a statement Thursday, warning of elevated risk of wildfires over much of Upper Michigan. Southwest winds gusting to 35 mph, relative humidity readings as low as 30 percent, along with temperatures reading in the lower 90s, were predicted.
Conditions today were expected to improve with lighter, north winds and cooler temperatures. However, temperatures will still be warm and rainfall is not predicted until Sunday night. There is a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms forcast for Labor Day, which could improve conditions by bringing moisture, but may also produce lightning strikes igniting wildfires.
In May, a lightning strike in Luce County started the Duck Lake Fire, which blackened 21,069 acres, consumed 136 structures, including 49 cabins or homes. Personnel numbered 300 battled the blaze and just under 43 miles of fire line were built. The fire is the third-largest wildfire in modern history, after the Mack Lake Fire, which burned 25,000 acres downstate in 1980 and the 72,000-acre Seney Fire of 1976.
So far this year, the DNR has responded to 443 wildfires statewide that have burned more than 23,376 acres. Just over 100 of those fire have occurred in the Upper Peninsula.
Paul Kollmeyer, a DNR fire prevention specialist, said the northern region of Michigan will experience the highest wildfire potential until wet weather moves in and reduces the risk.
"Improperly extinguishing campfire coals and embers is a leading cause of wildfires," Kollmeyer said.
So far this year, the DNR said miscellaneous causes have combined to produce the highest percentage of wildfires at 31 percent; debris burning was the next highest cause at 24 percent; followed by equipment at 11 percent; power lines at 9 percent and campfires and lightning each at 7 percent.
"Taking simple precautions will help prevent small fires from getting out of hand and causing major damage," Kollmeyer said.
To ensure fire safety, the DNR recommended taking the following precautions:
For more information on campfire tips, wildfire prevention, burn permits and fire preparedness, visit: www.michigan.gov/preventwildfires
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.