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Firewise technique protects your camp

June 13, 2012
The Daily News

The Duck Lake Fire, caused by a lightning strike and initially reported on Thursday, May 24, quickly became a rapidly-spreading fire in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.

A total of 136 structures have been lost, including 49 homes/cabins, 23 garages, 38 sheds/outbuildings and 26 campers.

At nearly 22,000 acres, the Duck Lake Fire is the third-largest wildfire in modern Michigan history, after the 25,000-acre Mack Lake Fire (1980) and the 72,000-acre Seney Fire (1976).

Wildfire can occur any time, especially in spring.

Homeowners with properties in heavily-wooded or rural areas can implement preventive landscaping techniques to help minimize property loss in the event of a wildfire.

Known nationally as "Firewise" landscaping, the preventive measures include such things as leaving at least a 30-foot open-space buffer between the home and tree line, and pruning back any over-hanging or low-hanging branches, Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials said.

"Building your home among the pine trees can be part of the allure of living up north, but doing so may actually put your property in jeopardy," said DNR fire prevention specialist Paul Kollmeyer. "Firewise landscaping techniques enhance the value and appeal of a home, while serving to protect your investment."

Though this is something that should be done every year, several large storms that passed through northern Michigan this past winter caused more widespread damage than usual to trees in some areas - especially conifers.

In some locations, this has caused a lot of branches, needles and other debris to accumulate on the ground, become lodged in trees or gather on top of the roofs of cottages and outbuildings. All of these situations pose a wildfire risk to personal property.

Within 30 feet of a structure (at a minimum), homeowners should:

- Reduce and/or eliminate hazardous evergreen trees, such as pines and spruce, that have limbs hanging to the ground.

- Remove small trees, household debris, brush and ground fuels (such as leaves and pine needles).

- Store firewood away from the house and clear vegetation at least 10 feet away from LP tanks.

- Plant short green grass and keep it watered and mowed (grass lawns act as a first-rate fuel break).

- Prune lower tree limbs to a height of 6 to 10 feet, and space trees so crowns are 10 to 16 feet apart (prevents fire from jumping through the crowns and encourages trees to grow larger, faster).

- Remove small shrubs, scrub growth, ground litter and dead trees.

- Store gasoline, paint, solvents and other highly flammable items in a cool, well-ventilated area away from other structures.

- Leave at least 10 feet between any outbuildings.

- Remove dried leaves, pine needles, broken twigs and other dead vegetation from rooftops and gutters. Pay special attention to valleys created where two sloping sides of a roof come together. These areas are natural concentration points for windblown debris.

Expanding the buffer to 100 feet makes these tactics even more effective and may protect a structure from wildfire even without firefighter intervention, DNR experts said.

Within 3 feet of a structure (at a minimum), homeowners are advised to maintain an area free of combustible materials to prevent flames from having direct contact with the home.

Gravel, stone chips, concrete or mineral soil work well next to the home. Stone, brick or masonry walls that are free of vegetation can also serve as effective firebreaks.

"As we unfortunately have seen with the ongoing Duck Lake Fire in Luce County, the threat of wildfire is ever present in rural Michigan," Kollmeyer said. "However, we have seen examples within the fire perimeter of structures saved due to the use of these Firewise landscaping principles."



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