Risk exists for wildfires

ESCANABA – Though it was a wet and late spring in the Upper Peninsula this year, the danger of wildfires still exists as conditions can change like the wind.

Wind is one of the major factors considered in determining the fire danger rate for each county in Michigan, explained Celeste Chingwa, resource protection manager at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources incident command center in Harvey.

Other factors in the fire danger equation are moisture in and on the ground, long-term drought, temperature, and humidity, said Chingwa during a telephone interview with the Daily Press on Friday.

As of Friday, fire ratings across the U. P. were low with a few areas reporting no fire danger. Fire ratings in the Lower Peninsula ranged from none to very high.

Two small wildfires have occurred in the U.P. so far this year, said Chingwa. One fire in Gwinn was caused by a cigarette in leaf litter; the other in Newberry was caused by a burning debris pile that got out of control, she said.

“Debris burning is our major cause of fire this time of year,” Chingwa said, explaining that ground conditions can be dried out with no new green growth, making areas susceptible to wildfires.

“With debris burning, people want to clean up their yards before the grass greens. They burn old leaves, grass piles they’ve raked, and branches but don’t realize how fast fire can spread to fields,” she said.

Wildfires are often due to individuals’ “carelessness and unawareness” of the dangers of fire including how fast it can escape and get out of control, Chingwa said.

In addition to the two small grass fires in the U.P., 55 wildfires have burned 317 acres in the Lower Peninsula as of May 5, according to the Michigan DNR website. By May 5 last year, there were 96 wildfires reported statewide compared to this year’s 57 wildfires.

More than half of the fires reported in the state this year have been caused by debris burning, according to the DNR data. Fourteen percent were due to power lines while 9 percent were caused by campfires. Other causes include equipment fires, burning buildings, trains, children, and incendiary fires set on purpose.

Anyone wanting to burn yard rakings and brush must be authorized to do so by a burn permit. Through use of the DNR’s website, a person can determine if there is permission to burn in an area. By accessing an interactive map on the website, if a yes appears in the county, that is considered a permit to burn yard rakings and brush only.

A burn permit can also be accessed by calling the DNR at 1-866-922-2876.

Authorization to burn does not free people of the responsibility of a wildfire should the fire escape and get out of control, notes the website.

Chingwa added a burn permit does not allow the burning of garbage, lumber, or other processed materials. Only all-natually-occurring materials can be burned, she said.