Wildfire burns thousands of acres over the weekend
Tue, 06/06/2023 - 12:30pm caleb
Saturday blaze – caused by a ‘campfire on private land’ – forces road closures and evacuations, according to DNR
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
A large wildfire forced evacuation of homes, an electricity shutdown, and the closure of roads (including a portion of I-75) on Saturday as the blaze burned thousands of acres of land in Crawford County.
At 6:34 p.m. on Saturday, June 3, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reported that “DNR firefighters and local partners” were “battling a 1,000-acre wildfire in Crawford County.” The DNR reported that the fire was “located about four miles southeast of Grayling in Grayling Township, near Staley Lake Road.”
“The wildfire is moving to the west and southwest and threatens multiple buildings. Evacuations are being conducted by emergency personnel,” the DNR reported on Saturday evening.
The Grayling Middle School gymnasium and Beaver Creek Township Hall were listed as available shelters for evacuees.
Several roads were closed on Saturday due to the fire, according to the DNR, including “I-75 between Four Mile Road Exit 251 to Down River Road Exit 256, Staley Lake Road from M-72 to Four Mile Road, (and) Wilderness Trail from Keystone Landing Road to Staley Lake Road.” Staley Lake Beach and Kneff Lake Beach were closed and a Temporary Flight Restriction was “in place for a five-mile perimeter around the fire at heights below 5,000 feet,” according to the DNR.
“Ground crews, heavy equipment, a Michigan State Police helicopter, and four USDA Forest Service fire boss planes and a Type 1 helicopter have been assigned to help suppress the fire. Aircraft will scoop water from Kneff Lake, Shellenbarger Lake, and Lake Margrethe,” according to the DNR’s 6:34 p.m. report on Saturday, June 3. “The fire cause has not yet been determined.”
As firefighters battled the blaze, Consumers Energy turned off electricity in Grayling, according to the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office.
“The fire was within 1/2 mile from I-75 at the time and we didn’t want firefighters to be working the area and have the high voltage lines running from Four Mile to Grayling to get damaged and put them in danger if they fell while still active,” according to the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office.
Area emergency responders directed traffic – including detoured vehicles due to road closures – in the Grayling area on Saturday evening due to the stop lights being out with no power.
At 11:29 p.m. on Saturday, June 3, an update from the DNR reported that “fire crews plan to work through the night to contain the estimated 2,400-acre Wilderness Trail Fire in Crawford County.”
“The fire started around 1 p.m. about four miles southeast of Grayling near Staley Lake in Grayling Township. Among those assisting with the fire are the Michigan State Police, USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Grayling Station 2, Grayling Public Safety, the Gaylord City Fire Department, and fire departments from Grayling Township, Kalkaska, Blue Lake, Beaver Creek, Markey Township, Higgins Township, Richfield Township, South Branch Township, Frederic Township, Otsego County, Cold Springs, and Denton Township fire departments. The fire cause is not yet available,” according to the DNR’s 11:29 p.m. update.
The 11:29 p.m. update from the DNR reported that “I-75 between 4 Mile Road (Exit 251) to North Down River Road (Exit 256)” had been reopened, but “Staley Lake Road from M-72 to Four Mile Road” and “Wilderness Trail from Keystone Landing Road to Staley Lake Road” remained closed. The two beaches remained closed at that time, and the Temporary Flight Restriction was still in place, according to the DNR.
At 12:07 p.m. on Sunday, June 4, the DNR reported that the fire was “85 percent contained” and “people who were evacuated from the fire area were allowed to return to their homes late Saturday.”
According to the DNR, the “fire source was a campfire on private property.”
“The fire started about 1 p.m. Saturday near Staley Lake in Grayling Township and burned in a southwest direction through jack pine, mixed pines, and oak,” according to the DNR.
The Crawford County Sheriff’s Office – on Sunday, June 4, at 12:46 p.m. – reported that “Consumers Power will have all power restored to the City of Grayling within the next 30 minutes.”
At 7:27 p.m. on Sunday, the Department of Natural Resources reported that the fire was “approximately 90 percent contained as of 5 p.m.” and “a team of 10 firefighters from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources” had joined the suppression effort.
“The fire remains at approximately 2,400 acres,” according to the 7:27 p.m. Sunday DNR report.
“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 Mike Janisse, leader of the DNR Incident Management Team responding to the fire.
The 7:27 p.m. update reported that many structures had been “threatened” by the fire and a few had been destroyed.
“Preliminary estimates show that the fire threatened 35 residences, 38 vehicles including 23 campers and three boats, and 58 outbuildings. Three outbuildings were lost. This continues to be assessed as staff are able to get into the affected area,” according to the DNR.
At 6:37 p.m. on Monday, June 5, the DNR reported that the fire was “more than 90 percent contained,” “recreation areas at Kneff Lake and Staley Lake are open,” “railroad tracks north of Four Mile Road have reopened to train traffic after inspection,” and “roads within the approximately 2,400-acre fire in Grayling Township are expected to open on Tuesday.”
“When roads reopen, residents and visitors to the area are warned to stay out of blackened areas. Dead trees could pose a hazard and the ground still may be warm in some areas,” according to the DNR. “Fire crews will still be on the job within the fire area to mop up and take care of any problems. Please drive slowly and give them space to do their work.”
“Fire danger remains extreme in most of Michigan and more hot, dry weather is in the forecast. Burn permits for yard debris are not being issued at this time,” according to the DNR.