Warming spring winds bring the threat of loss to wildland fire

Wildland fires pose a threat to more than forest resources and wildlife; many times homes, cottages and camps in the path of these fires are lost.

Windstorm damage creating potential ladder fuel fire hazard to building (Photo by MSU Extension)
Windstorm damage creating potential ladder fuel fire hazard to building (Photo by MSU Extension)

Shortly after the winter snows have melted, dead grasses, leaves, needles and other vegetation are exposed. This potential fuel is further dried by spring winds and sunshine presenting a real threat for wildland fires. Spring winds and sunshine combine to dry potential fuel that presents a real threat for wildland fires. Some fire ignition may occur naturally from lightning, however most of Michigan wildland fires are caused by human activities. The main cause of wildfires in Michigan (47 percent) is burning yard debris, such as grass clippings, leaves and trash. Natural occurring fires from lightning strikes are the cause of about 2 percent of Michigan fires; power lines are the start of about 6 percent on average.

Michigan fire data and statistics and many other valuable resources related to wildland fire and prescribed fire can be reviewed on the Michigan DNR Fire Management web pages.

Once fire is established beyond containment, it will move rapidly furled by dead dry debris when pushed by spring winds. Structures in the path of these unfortunate wildland fires are at high risk of loss. Owners can reduce the likelihood of losing a home or cabin by taking Firewise practices into consideration.

Something as innocent as a grass fire can pose high risk if practices are not established to protect structures. Debris like dead leaves or grass under porches and decks may provide the fuel for ignition of far more than lawns or grass. Branches and limbs adjacent to or on buildings and porches can act as “ladder fuel” for innocent looking fires to move up and onto walls and roofs or in some cases the tops of adjacent trees. 

To reduce the chances of a structure loss in the face of wildland fire there are some suggested practices owners are encouraged to adopt. Establish a safe zone around all buildings of at least 30’ by removal of as much combustible material as is possible, keep lawns or yards green, remove needles and leaves from roofs an rain gutters, prune yard trees to a height that reduces the chances for a grass fire to move up into the tree canopy. For safety sake, keep a turn-around area open for emergency vehicles and make sure your house or fire number is clearly viewable from the nearest public road.

Wildfire-Resistant Landscape Plants for Michigan (E2948) is a Michigan State University Extension bulletin that suggests landscape plant homeowners can utilize to reduce the risk of wildfire related loss while still enhancing the look of their property. On the national level, Firewise USA has a large inventory of bulletins, suggestions and tips on their web site to help homeowners establish better safety defense in the face of wildland fires.

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