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Stateside Podcast: What to do about MI's wildfires?

 An aerial image of a wildfire burning near Grayling, with smoke clouding above.
Courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

Update: Since we've published this article and podcast, the DNR has said that the Wilderness Trail Fire has been 100% contained.

Near Grayling this past Saturday, what started as a campfire on private property sparked a 2,400 acre wildfire. It doesn't take much to start a wildfire like this.

“It could just be a spark from a lawnmower blade hitting a rock. It could be from a train or a trailer, a safety chain dragging along the road,” according to Kerry Heckman of the state Department of Natural Resources Forest Resource Division.

Given the dry conditions and lack of rain currently, Michigan is the perfect storm for wildfires. Although this particular wildfire was 90% contained as of Monday, Michiganders will have to continue to be prudent and aware of the increased hazards of this season.

How are wildfires like this contained

The Forest Resource Division of the Department of Natural Resources has a myriad of methods for handling forest fires. For a wildfire like the one near Grayling, due to its size, they utilized both ground crews and air support.

In addition to fire bosses, which are small planes that scoop up water from lakes and drop that water on the fire, they also had different kinds of helicopters to assist aerially.

“That air support is really, really important in assisting the ground crews and getting to some of the areas of the fire that they can't easily get to and fight,” noted Heckman.

The Department of Natural Resources does not act alone; they work closely with other agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, police departments, and others.

What you can do to prevent wildfires

“I think it's very important for people to understand that we are in a fairly unprecedented situation right now with the level of dryness at this particular time of year. … It takes very, very little with these conditions for us to end up with a wildfire, so we can use everybody's help to prevent that from happening,” Heckman said.

While the DNR does its own part to prevent wildfires, such as not issuing burn permits around the state (which are needed to burn yard waste), you can take measures in your own life to limit the scope of this issue.

According to Heckman, “the number-one cause of human-caused wildfires in Michigan is debris burning.” So whether you are burning yard waste, cooking, or roasting s’mores over the campfire outside, ensure that you fully extinguish the fire with water and stir that water into the fire until you cannot feel any heat on the back of your hand from the fire.

Being mindful of the weather and drought conditions is paramount to preventing wildfires. If the air is particularly dry or it hasn’t rained much recently, try to keep fire-related activities at bay. Keep in mind that fire-related activities extend beyond having a fire — they include operating equipment and driving or parking on dry grass as well. Maintaining your vehicles and trailers is another safeguard against wildfires. Vehicles, especially if they haven't been regularly maintained, can emit sparks from their exhaust.

Keeping these practices in mind and paying attention to weather patterns as the summer progresses will help the state keep human-caused wildfires at a minimum. Listen to the Stateside Podcast to hear more about how the DNR responds to wildfires and why we’re seeing an increased risk for wildfires right now.

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Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Radio in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the Summer of 2020.
Olivia Mouradian recently graduated from the University of Michigan and joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2023.