When it comes to fire safety in Michigan, making smart, sensible decisions in the outdoors is always a good idea.
During Wildfire Prevention Week - April 15-21 - the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is stressing the importance of preventing wildfire during the state's critical spring fire season.
Wildfire Prevention Week is observed annually during the third full week of April in order to focus attention on the increased wildfire risk that typically occurs during this period.
"Late April and early May are when Michigan experiences the greatest threat of large and destructive fires," said Bill O'Neil, chief of the DNR's Forest Resources Division.
"Many people don't realize that most of our state's wildfires occur during the spring or that - even more surprising - more than 90 percent of Michigan's wildfires are caused by people," he said.
"Increased outdoor activity and a forest abundant with flammable leaves, needles and dead grass are cause for everyone's concern," O'Neil added. "Combine warm, windy days with people engaged in outdoor activities and the risk of wildfire elevates."
History shows that careless burning of debris is the source of most wildfires across Michigan. The good news is that with a little planning, everyone can help ensure safe burning before a single match is lit.
Paul Kollmeyer, DNR fire prevention specialist, reminds residents that brush burning in Michigan requires a burn permit. In the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula, residents can get a free burn permit online at www.michigan.gov/burnpermit.
Anyone without internet access can call toll-free at 866-922-2876.
In Wisconsin, burning permits are free and are available from local Emergency Fire Wardens, over the phone 1-888-WIS-BURN (947-2876).
With a permit in hand it is still necessary to call the toll-free 1-888-WIS-BURN (947-2876) or visit the Wisconsin DNR website at dnr.wi.gov and enter the keyword "fire" each day you intend to burn to learn of any restrictions on open burning in place for your location on that day.
The webpage and the phone messages are updated daily at 11 a.m.
Popular springtime outdoor activities include cooking and campfires.
Without proper precaution, Kollmeyer said these types of fires can escape and result in a wildfire. He offered the following tips on preventing a small, controlled fire from escaping and turning into a potentially deadly situation:
- Clear away flammable material surrounding the fire so it won't creep into dry vegetation.
- Keep campfires small and don't leave before they are extinguished.
- Douse the fire area with plenty of water, stir and add more water until everything is wet.
- Turn over unburned pieces and wet the underside.
- Do not cover a campfire with soil, because it may simply smolder before re-igniting.
- Consider composting or mulching yard debris as an alternative to burning it.
If you plan to burn debris or yard waste, fire officials suggest:
- Never leave a fire unattended, even for a moment.
- Be sure all debris fires and campfires are completely extinguished before leaving them unattended.
- Use plenty of water to extinguish an outdoor fire. Covering it with soil is not sufficient. Wet everything thoroughly, especially the undersides of unburned pieces.
- Burn only when winds are calm.
- Be sure you have plenty of water, rakes and shovels on hand in case it gets away from you.
- Have plenty of helpers around.
- Burn in the evenings when the winds die down.
- If your fire escapes your control, call for help immediately.
"When considering these simple tips, the public can play a big part in preventing wildfires by exercising great caution when burning brush and leaves or enjoying a campfire this spring," Kollmeyer said. "It just takes a few extra minutes to ensure your small campfire doesn't turn into a dangerous situation."