Officials: Fire danger high

MARQUETTE – While several areas in the Upper Peninsula are still contending with high water from snow-melt gushing through rivers and streams, other parts of the region have been posting warnings of very high fire danger.

In the Delta County area, the fire danger remains at very high today as it has been for the past few days, said Eric Thompson, manager for the Escanaba Forest Management Unit at the local Department of Natural Resources.

“We’re forecasting very high again today. That means there’s a pretty high probability things will readily burn,” said Thompson this morning.

No permits are being issued for open burning which likely won’t be allowed until significant rain falls across the region, he said. This ban does not pertain to camp fires where extreme precautions should be taken, he added.

With many homeowners doing outdoor spring cleaning, Thompson recommends debris piles not be burned but instead be hauled to compost sites in Gladstone and Escanaba.

A half acre of wooded area in Danforth was scorched when a burning pit got out of control Wednesday, according to Escanaba Public Safety. There was no damage to personal property. DNR personnel assisted at the scene.

In Wells Township on Tuesday, an unattended grass fire damaged two sheds and three fences. Escanaba firefighters were assisted by the DNR at this wildfire, also.

In the northern U.P., DNR officials said M-28 serves as a rough dividing line between the widely varying fire conditions.

“Basically, above highway M-28 is fairly snow-covered and still drying out, but south of 28, things have dried out and several fire departments have been called out on small fires,” said Celeste Chingwa, DNR resource protection specialist for the U.P.

On Tuesday, the DNR posted a very high fire danger warning at the Marquette field office, while those conditions have been in effect for the past couple of weeks or so in some areas to the south including Iron Mountain and Menominee, Chingwa said.

“We’re just starting getting into it,” Chingwa said of the fire season.

Last year, 114 fires – including the Duck Lake Fire in Luce County that consumed 95 structures – charred a total of more than 21,500 acres in the U.P. An additional 2,279 acres burned downstate in 381 blazes.

So far this year, the U.P. has produced eight fires burning a little more than 50 acres. The largest fire totaled 16 acres and occurred in the eastern end of the peninsula. All but two of this year’s fires were caused by debris burning, Chingwa said.

Downstate there have been 97 fires so far this year, which have blackened a total of 344 acres.

Across the U.P. Tuesday, no burn permits were being issued in two-thirds of the counties. Only Houghton, Baraga, Keweenaw, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties were allowing burning, with restrictions in place until after 6 p.m. in some places.

Other DNR fire stations reporting very high fire conditions Tuesday included Gwinn, High Bridge in Luce County, Watersmeet in Gogebic County and Stonington in Delta County.

Chingwa said in general, the fire season start is a little late this year in the northern part of the region, but not by much.

“Last year spring came way early,” Chingwa said. “Except for about a couple of weeks, we’re right on track by my estimation.”

Fire officials anticipate with the late spring conditions, vegetation will “green up” faster than is typical, translating into a shorter dry fire season.

“That’s what we’re supposing,” Chingwa said. “But if we don’t get any rain, that will change.”

Chingwa said once all areas have dried out, larger fires typically occur in the U.P. in an area north and east of Gwinn, where jack pine is prevalent. Areas to the west generally include more hardwoods, less susceptible to large fires.