Windy wildfire season poses dangers | Local News
TRAVERSE CITY – A snow dust should mitigate fire risk on the northwestern lower peninsula for a day or two, but not wipe out the spring forest fire season.
Nathan Comar, a forest fire officer for the Department of Natural Resources, expects the wind and sun to soon dry up the types of dead grass, undergrowth and debris that were burned in the recent fires.
Spring is usually the busiest time of year for forest fires because once the snow melts all of the fuel is left to dry, Comar said.
“Once we have warmer temperatures and warmer rainfall, that vegetation begins to turn green and the moisture levels rise, making it difficult to burn,” he said.
It’s been a temperate year for forest fires, aside from a massive one near Manistee that recently set more than 500 acres on fire, Comar said. It is the earliest time he can remember such a big fire in his five years at DNR.
A milder winter started the season earlier as the snow melted earlier, Comar said. In addition, less snow accumulation left a certain undergrowth, which is normally “blown up” by snow.
That leads to faster-spreading fires with higher flames that can spread to trees, especially pines with low-hanging branches, Comar said.
He urged anyone who thought of burning brushes or debris to check the DNR’s burn permit website at www.michigan.gov/burnpermit. The department updates the page with the latest conditions and firing rules (no actual permits are issued) and provides numbers for departments that enforce local rules that are different from those of the state.
The DNR is usually responsible for incineration regulations in townships with fewer than 7,500 inhabitants, unless otherwise stipulated in a local ordinance.
The townships of Acme, East Bay and Garfield blamed the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department for their firing rules, department chief Pat Parker said. Open fires with leaves, grass and decrepit brushes are not allowed in these townships.
“A lot of people don’t know they can’t, but we got a call the other day and wanted to see if it’s okay to burn a campfire,” said Parker.
Recreational fires are fine as long as they’re kept small – three feet wide by two feet high – and no closer than 25 feet to a building, Parker said. And bonfires are allowed with a permit.
However, according to the National Weather Service, the winds were exceeded with gusts of 31 miles per hour on Wednesday.
“This is not common sense, the fire will go away,” said Parker.
The gale winds were blamed for a fire that broke out north of Northport on Tuesday morning and they were still blowing with gusts of 30 mph on Thursday. The National Weather Service predicted a windy Friday evening.
Wind conditions and low humidity are what the DNR is looking for when imposing fire bans, Comar said.
Traverse City prohibits campfires or open burning of leaves, grass, trash, or similar items, while recreational fires are fine with a permit per regulation.
The municipality of Leelanau also issues its own cremation permits, which, according to DNR, can be obtained from the fire brigade under number 231-386-5343.
The fire department of the Metro Grand Traverse gives permission for agricultural fires to burn tree stumps and branches.
Meanwhile, the DNR exempts most agricultural burns, unless they are on street shoulders, fields where no crops were grown in the past year, and burn leftover Christmas trees or burning trees, garden lots or other vegetation that haven’t departments are part of normal cultivation.
Comar said that means an orchard owner would not need a permit to burn old cherry trees, but rather for other trees that are felled on the property. He urged everyone to call the DNR if they are not sure – the number of the burn permit is 866-922-2876.
Parker said farmers should let their local departments know if they are burning trees or using fires to clear fields to avoid confusion – a passerby could call 911 and think it was an emergency.
He reminds anyone who starts a fire that they are responsible for what happens to it, possibly including the cost of extinguishing it if it gets out of hand.