Local wildfire danger cools off

MARQUETTE – A combination of cool temperatures and higher-than-normal rainfall along with other factors has contributed to the relatively low number of brush and wild fires in the Upper Peninsula this season, according to state and federal officials.

Bryce Avery, fire specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at the Marquette Coordination Center, said so far DNR firefighters have worked on 25 fires, which are far fewer than average to this point in the fire season, which is from snow melt in the spring to snow fall in late autumn or early winter.

“Our numbers are below average, so far,” he said. “(The average) depends on long-term and short-term rainfall.”

Most fires DNR crews fight are caused by people, Avery said. There are lightning strike fires in the drier months, also.

“If we have lightning starts, typically they’re in the later summer,” he said. “There haven’t been any lightning caused fires we’ve responded to (so far in the entire state).”

Although most lighting strike fires happen in late summer, Avery said it is unusual not to have any lightning-caused fires by this time of the year.

So far, Avery said DNR crews have responded to 126 fires in the Lower Peninsula.

The DNR has fire danger signs in various locations in the U.P., and Avery said most of the levels so far are low or moderate.

“There’s nothing forecasted for very high,” he said. “Things have been fairly quiet across Michigan.”

The DNR fire danger levels range from low to extreme, Avery said.

Janel Crooks, public affairs representative for the Hiawatha National Forest in Munising, said the fire crews there have fought few fires so far.

“We’ve done prescribed burning,” she said.

Jim Grant, fire management officer for the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan and the Chequamegon and Nicolet National Forests in Wisconsin, said there has been a very low number of fires crews have fought so far this summer.

“We (have) had hardly any fires on the Ottawa,” he said.

Grant attributes the low number of fires to a long winter with significant snow fall, plentiful rain so far, and relatively low temperatures with high humidity, all of which have led to good vegetation growth.

“It’s a very lush green,” he said.

Another factor contributing to the low number of fires is fewer than normal number of visitors to the forests.

“The highest percentage of our fires are caused by humans,” he said.

About 95 percent of the fires crews fight are caused by humans, most of them unintentional.

Grant said for the Forest Service, there have been only two other years in its history with a fewer number of fires by this time of year.

Grant said another contributing factor for the low number of brush and wildfires is better communication from the Forest Service to the public informing how to prevent wildfires.

“We’re working more with the public than we ever have,” he said.

So far, Grant said the rest of the summer looks like it should be relatively uneventful for wildfires.

“It looks like a pretty calm weather season,” he said.