Wildfire danger remains high even with damp spring

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Even though mid-Michigan saw a very snowy winter and heavy spring rains, fire danger still exists because of dry air and warmer temperatures.

April is when wildfires start becoming a problem because of existing dead and very dry vegetation makes great fuel for wildfires, said Paul Kollmeyer, resource protection manager within the Department of Natural Resources Forest Resources Division. The DNR is responsible for wildland fire protection on approximately 30 million acres of state and private land.

“One out of three wildfires in Michigan is caused by someone burning debris who did not take proper precautions,” Kollmeyer said. “Most of the wildfires in Michigan occur in the spring – April, May and June.”

Wildfire Prevention Week runs from April 20 through April 26 and Kollmeyer wants to remind the public about the dangers of wildfires.

“Many people look outside and think the snow and spring rains have taken the edge off the wildfire danger,” Kollmeyer said.

That’s not the case, Kollmeyer added. Most of that moisture has seeped in to the ground, leaving dry, dead and dormant grass on the surface.

“The dried leaves, needles and brown grass from last year are still there,” he said. “When the weather is warm, folks want to get out and clean up their yards. They don’t realize that all it takes is one strong wind gust catching an ember to ignite a wildfire.”

A person is required to get a burn permit prior to burning brush and debris in Michigan.

“We respond to many fires where the landowner failed to obtain a burn permit,” Kollmeyer said. “This is why planning is so vital before lighting that match.”

Residents in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula can obtain a free burn permit by visiting www.michigan.gov/burnpermit. Residents in southern Michigan should contact their local fire department or township office to see if burning is permitted in their area.

In addition to receiving a burn permit, the DNR recommends people take the following steps to reduce the risk of wildfire to their home and property:

  • Clear leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches and decks. This prevents embers from igniting your home.
  • Keep your lawn hydrated and maintained. Dry grass and shrubs are fuel for wildfire. If it is brown, cut it down to reduce fire intensity.
  • Remove fuel within 3 to 5 feet of your home’s foundation and out-buildings, including garages and sheds. If it can catch fire, don’t let it touch your house, deck or porch.
  • Remove dead vegetation surrounding your home, within the 30- to 100-foot area.
  • Wildfire can spread to tree tops. If you have large trees on your property, prune them so the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet high.
  • Don’t let debris and lawn cuttings linger. Chip or mulch these items quickly to reduce fuel for fire.
  • When planting, choose slow-growing, carefully placed shrubs and trees so the area can be more easily maintained.
  • Landscape with native and less flammable plants.

For more information about making fire wise landscaping choices, visit firewise.msu.edu.

“Be safe and smart when it comes to fire,” Kollmeyer said. “Fire prevention is everyone’s responsibility.”