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Grayling wildfire caused by campfire; DNR says fire more than 90% contained

A portion of forest impacted by a wildfire southeast of Graying on June 4, 2023.
Rick Brewer
A portion of forest impacted by a wildfire southeast of Graying on June 4, 2023.

Update Mon. June 5, 4:30pm:

A wildfire that scorched 2,400 acres of forest southeast of Grayling this weekend is now more than 90% contained.

Firefighters were able to further contain the blaze with assistance from the weather.

An overnight drop in temperature and increased humidity allowed fighters to further suppress the fire throughout Sunday evening into Monday.

“There’s not enough rain today to make a significant reduction in fire danger,” said Mike Janisse, commander of the DNR Incident Management Team that is assisting with the fire. “Even though it feels cooler, conditions are very dry and extreme fire conditions are expected to continue in the Grayling area and around the state.”

Crews from a hand full of agencies as far as Wisconsin continue to reinforce the containment line on the south end of the fire and are likely to reopen impacted areas following more cleanup.

Three outbuildings were lost in the fire. The DNR estimates the fire threatened dozens of residential homes, vehicles and campers.

Update Sun. June 4, 7:00pm:

A wildfire that burned 2,400 acres of forest southeast of Grayling over the weekend was caused by a campfire on private property, according to the Department of Natural Resources. The wildfire is now 90% contained.

“The crews were working in hilly, sandy terrain and that was difficult,” said Mike Janisse, Incident Commander of the Michigan DNR Incident Management Team supporting the fire in a written statement. “Weather conditions also were hot, dry and windy.”

There have been no reports of any damage to structures in the impact zone as of Sunday evening. Local and county fire department assisted the DNR and U.S. Forest Service by establishing perimeters around buildings to protect them from spreading, said DNR officials.

The National Weather Service in Gaylord said the risk of wildfire spread remains high and that its unusual for Michigan to have conditions this dry late in the spring. Rain is not expected in the northern Michigan forecast until next weekend.

Firefighters from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources made the trip to Grayling to assist in battling the fire. The supply of resources is being attributed to the Great Lakes Forest Fire Compact Agreement between Minnesota, Wisconsin and nearby Canadian provinces.

“We’re grateful for the help from our neighbors in Wisconsin as well as the support from federal, state and local fire departments, emergency management officials and law enforcement personnel,” said Janisse.

Update Sun. June 4, 9:50am:

A 2,400-acre wildfire southeast of Grayling is now 85% contained, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

All evacuation orders in the area have been lifted and a handful of roads in the contained area are closed to north-south traffic as several hotspots remain active.

First responders from the DNR, U.S. Forest Service and local fire departments worked through the night to contain the fire. The DNR told WCMU the overnight drop in temperature and rise in humidity allowed firefighters to make a dent in putting out the fire.

Fire crews are preparing for another busy day on Sunday, as fire danger remains critical throughout much of Michigan.

Laurie Abel is a public information officer with the DNR. She said the risk of wildfires throughout northern Michigan is extreme and this is an unprecedented situation.

"This fire is one that we’re trying to get to hand over to the local area," said Abel. "So that we can be prepared for the next big blow up. So we are still primed for conditions for this to happen just about anywhere in northern Michigan."

The DNR said no open burn permits will be administered at this time. But no open burning doesn't mean no campfires, Abel said. If you chose to have a campfire, make sure to have water sources on hand and to drench the fire with water multiple times before leaving the fire unattended, the DNR said in a statement.

Last night, Governor Gretchen Whitmer activated the State Emergency Operations Center, which will provide the DNR, the U.S. Forest Service and local fire fighters additional state resources, including air assistance, to battle the fire.

Update Sun. June 4, 2023 at 8:50am:
A wildfire that burned 2,400-acres on Saturday near Grayling is now 85 percent contained. Fire crews are preparing for another busy day on Sunday, as fire danger remains critical throughout much of Michigan.

The fire had previously been reported as having consumed 3,600 acres by the Crawford County Sheriff, but those numbers were revised downward overnight. All evacuation orders in the area have been lifted.

Update Sat. June 3, 2023 at 10:23pm:
The Michigan Department of Transportation reports I-75 has reopened in both directions in the Grayling area.

Previous reporting (last updated 6/3/23 at 9:08pm):
Local, state and federal fire crews are battling a 3,600-acre wildfire southeast of Grayling. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, multiple buildings are in danger, and evacuations are being conducted by emergency personnel.

At 6:30pm Saturday, June 3, the fire was located about 4 miles southeast of Grayling in Grayling Township, near Staley Lake Road.
There are multiple road closures in place, including:

  • I-75 north and southbound between 4 Mile Road (Exit 251) and Down River Road (Exit 256).
  • Staley Lake Road from M-72 to 4 Mile Road
  • Wilderness Trail from Keystone Landing Road to Staley Lake Road

Staley Lake Beach and Neff Lake Beach are also closed. Residents in the area are under evacuation orders. Shelters have been opened at the Grayling Middle School gym (500 Spruce Street, Grayling) and Beaver Creek Township Hall (8888 S. Grayling Road).

A map showing power outages in the Grayling area, updated June 3, 2023 at 8:15pm. A large wildfire southeast of the city has reportedly burned 1,000 acres.
Consumers Energy
A map showing power outages in the Grayling area, updated June 3, 2023 at 8:15pm. A large wildfire southeast of the city has reportedly burned 1,000 acres.

According to Consumers Energy, power is out for about 3,000 customers in the vicinity of the fire. No restoration time has been announced.

The DNR says state and federal aircraft have joined the fire suppression effort. They include a Michigan State Police helicopter, four U.S. Forest Service fire boss planes, and a Type 1 helicopter. A temporary flight restriction is in place for a 5-mile perimeter around the fire below 5,000 feet, and all aircraft, including drones, are being asked to avoid the area.

The DNR has not yet determined the cause of the fire. The agency says Michigan is experiencing unprecedented hot and dry conditions, causing extreme fire danger across much of the state. The DNR says outdoor burning is not recommended at this time.

This is a developing story, and will be updated as more information becomes available.

In the interest of transparency, we note the Michigan DNR is a financial supporter of WCMU Public Media.

Mike Horace is WCMU's Radio Program and Operations Manager.
Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.
Rick Brewer has been news director at WCMU since February 2024.