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Northeast wildfire risk high, but average is down

An aerial view of the wilderness trail fire in Grayling, MI that occurred in June 2023. The fire burned 2,400 acres of land and took days to contain.
Courtesy Photo
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
An aerial view of the wilderness trail fire in Grayling, MI that occurred in June 2023. The fire burned 2,400 acres of land and took days to contain.

Spring is wildfire season for Michigan, and Alpena County has already seen several brush fires this year. As summer comes and humidity gets lower, the risks of fires increase, especially in Northeast Michigan.

Jennifer Hansen is the fire supervisor for Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties. She is responsible for overseeing staff responses to wildfires, as well as monitoring the weather for fire risks, managing burn restrictions and permits, and maintaining good relations with the local fire departments.

Hansen said her area averages around 15 to 20 fires a year. This year the numbers are down due to spring rainfall, but she said the risks are still high.

“We have had recent rain but still with the spring time of the year, things burn a little bit easier,” she said. “With the low humidity that we’re supposed to have the next couple of days, we will still be at a high fire danger.”

Hansen said a majority of wildfires in the area are human-caused, with equipment and mechanical fires being “a close second.” She said these fires are reported either by residents calling 911 or by pilots for the Department of Natural Resources.

Ben Dusendang is one of the pilots assigned to spot wildfires, and he’s the one who spotted the brush fire in Alpena last weekend.

“It was actually a very nice day, somewhat calmer winds,” he said. “I saw it from, I think, west of Atlanta... It looked like a small smoke to start, and then it was burning grass and stuff in that small field.”

Dusendang has been flying for the DNR for six years, and spotting fires isn’t all he does. He also does flights for the U.S. Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“There’s a lot of different aspects throughout the year,” he said. “It’s kind of a neat perspective and every day’s different.”

Dusendang said while the wildfire season is slowing down, it is still active. He’s unsure at what point in the year they’ll stop looking for the smoke, but he estimates September.

While the season is still active, Hansen said people should be vigilant and call 911 if they spot a wildfire. She also advised people to use caution when burning things in their yards and to practice basic fire safety.

“The faster we can get to them, the easier they are to extinguish before they get to be really bad,” she said.

Editor's note: The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is a sponsor of WCMU. We report on them as we do with any other organization.

Courtney Boyd is a newsroom intern for WCMU based at The Alpena News
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