Despite a ban against burning debris outdoors, area fire departments were scrambling this weekend to put out grass fires, authorities said Monday. At least five fires were reported in Presque Isle County, another six in Alcona County and one in western Alpena County, where temperatures were warmer.
According to statistics kept by the state, outdoor trash fires are the single largest cause of wildfires, and in 2012 were blamed for 25 percent of all blazes in Michigan.
One small grass fire Saturday was melting some siding on a home on M-68, east of Onaway, before firefighters were able to extinguish it, Onaway Area Fire Department Chief Roger Nash said. Another fire April 22 burned a strip three feet by 50 feet near a highway.
'People are not paying attention to how dry it is," Nash said. "The dead grass from last year is very combustible even with the moisture. In some spots it's burned across water, because the bent grass catches fire."
Although a "no burn" ban has been in effect for trash and brush, grass fires are still cropping up, and residents need to be careful.
"Common sense is not as common as we'd like," Don Johnson, fire management specialist with the Department of Natural Resources, said. "Spring is our big season. Everything is dead from winter."
His agency stopped issuing electronic burn permits for most Northeast Michigan counties, including Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle.
The permit system works this way: before burning trash, residents must first call a hotline or check an online DNR map. If those sources indicate burning is allowed, the simple act of checking out the information is equal to obtaining a permit.
The map is updated at 10 a.m. daily.
"It's a day-to-day decision, because in the spring time the weather changes widely," Johnson said. "Since the last rain was probably April 18, it's dried out.
Johnson recommended that if residents have a barrel of trash, or a pile of brush they want to burn, they should cover the material with a tarp. When the weather turns wet, they can check the burn permit site for an OK, then set fire to the dry material, with less risk of spread.
* the burning permit hotline is 1-866-922-2876. When prompted, say the name of the county where you are planning to burn debris. A recorded message will tell you if burning of outdoor debris is permitted.
* www.dnr.state.mi.us/burnpermits shows a color-coded map that indicates if outdoor debris burning is allowed.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.