DNR, Negaunee Fire Department warn of high fire risk due to dry environment

The dry conditions is due to a lack of rain since flooding earlier in the spring, resulting in the land drying out across the U.P.
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 6:30 PM EDT
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UPPER PENINSULA, Mich. (WLUC) - Dry conditions in the U.P means an increased emphasis on avoiding mistakes that could start a wildfire.

The U.P has avoided major wildfires so far this year, but experts are urging extra caution. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says its crews have already helped suppress 26 fires across the U.P. this year. However, the actual number of wildfires this year is even higher than that.

The DNR says multiple fire departments, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies have been busy handling these blazes.

“With everybody running fires, that’s showing a sign that we are really dry,” said DNR Fire Management Specialist Keith Murphy.

Murphy says it’s mainly due to a lack of rain. Flooding over the spring oversaturated the ground, but little rain has fallen since then, causing it to dry out.

While lightning strikes have caused some fires, Murphy says almost 90% of the fires they have suppressed so far have been human-caused.

“We’ve had some folks mowing lawns that have started fires,” continued Murphy. “The blades on the mower could hit a rock, there could be a backfire from the exhaust, from equipment exhaust, it doesn’t have to be just your lawnmower - say it’s your lawn tractor.”

As a result, parts of the U.P and the Lower Peninsula are under burn bans. Cooking and warming fires are still allowed.

Even with these bans, however, one mistake can still cause a fire.

“First brush fire I ever responded to here in Negaunee actually was caused simply by a cigarette butt and wind,” said Negaunee Fire Department Secretary and Firefighter Mason Tompkins. “It doesn’t take that much wind or that much oxygen, and if you have an open flame, those are the three components for the fire tetrahedron.”

The DNR says while a statewide ban on fires has not been implemented, it has been discussed. They are also not currently issuing any burn permits.