Springtime in Michigan: A wildfire tinderbox

Spring is the time of year with the highest number of wildfires in Michigan. Most of these are the result of human activities from burning leaves, brush and other trash. Farms and rural dwellings are most at risk.

Springtime in Michigan: A wildfire tinderbox. Photo credit:Paul Garrod, Paw Paw Courier Leader April 4, 2014 l MSU Extension
Springtime in Michigan: A wildfire tinderbox. Photo credit:Paul Garrod, Paw Paw Courier Leader April 4, 2014 l MSU Extension

In Paw Paw, Michigan, a trash fire from a burning barrel released embers that set the grass on fire. The grassfire traveled to the neighboring farm burning about 6 acres of land, a barn, a chicken coop and a pole barn and caused fire damage to the main home on April 9, 2014. The fire then “skipped the road,” threatening the property and house across the street. Fire crews got the fire under control before much damage was done to the farm house and the house across the street. This wildfire that spread from burner barrel then across the road could have been much worse. The quick actions of a passerby who alerted the farm owner; and the expertise and quick response of four local fire departments gained control of the fire quickly. Thankfully no humans or livestock were injured but several pieces of farming equipment were lost in the barn.

Spring is the most dangerous time of year to burn anything. This is because of the accumulation of dried combustible materials left from the previous fall and winter. Grasses, weeds and trees all leave their dead, dried waste littering the ground in the spring. Even if it rains or snows, these items cannot absorb moisture again. In the spring, this accumulated material is dry and burnable pretty much anytime. Raking and burning this residue from your yard should not be your first option.

Michigan State University Firewise recommends that composting be your first option. Waste paper can be composted along with food and yard waste. If you do not wish to compost or cannot compost where you live, then take advantage of the yardwaste pickup program in your community. General household waste should be disposed of accordingly. If you must burn getting a burning permit and ensuring that water is nearby at all times are recommended. If you can wait, wait until the grass is green and leaves are out on the trees. This reduces the risk of a wildfire being caused by wind-borne embers from your fire.

So far this year in Van Buren County alone it is estimated that there have been between 50-60 small wildfire/grassfire calls. Most of the fires are the result of spot fires created by floating embers from people burning either trash or brush. Michigan banned open burning of trash, (i.e. household waste) in 2012. These kinds of fires are mostly from human activities and are avoidable. There are several Michigan State University Extension educators working across Michigan provide Michigan Firewise educational programming and assistance. For more information, you can contact an educator through MSU Extension’s “Find an Expert” search tool using the keywords “Firewise communities.” For more information about composting and gardening visit Gardening in Michigan.

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