DNR temporarily halts prescribed burns due to ongoing drought

Official maps show that most of West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula are in a severe drought.
Infographics: Wildfires currently burning by acres burned
Posted at 7:20 AM, Jun 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-04 07:20:32-04

MICHIGAN — According to the U.S. Drought Monitor and the MesoWest map, most of the United States is experiencing a drought, especially on the West Coast and in the Midwest. Specifically, Kent and Kalamazoo counties in Michigan are under a severe drought. Paul Rogers with the Department of Natural Resources said it stems from this past winter.

“We essentially did not get much snowfall at all. A lot of what we received was actually lake effect. There wasn’t much moisture in it,” Rogers said during an interview on Thursday afternoon. “We actually started drying out last fall. We were in quite a severe drought late last summer, and it’s just extended into now where we have very low to abnormal precipitation.”

Rogers said this level of dryness is something they typically see in July and August. However, this weekend’s 90-degree temperatures will only make the drought worse.

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So, rain is needed now.

“If we can get an inch or a full 24-hour period or a couple of inches, that would really help and give us a deep-soaking, long-saturated rain," said Rogers, who's the wildfire prevention specialist with the DNR.

Rogers added that the ground is so dry that anything less would just run off. So, in the meantime, the DNR has temporarily stopped doing prescribed burns, which they do to enhance the land, restore habitat and kill off invasive species.

“We call it a prescription when we do a prescribed burn. That gives us all the variables we’re looking at. We got to be very careful where we put the smoke to make sure we have the right atmospheric conditions to where we lift the smoke up and out. So, there’s a lot that we take into play,” he said. “Often when we burn, we have a lot of equipment on hand.”

They’ve got engines and other resources to put a fire out quickly if it gets out of hand, he said. So, the DNR is recommending that others will stop doing burns temporarily too.

“It’s even when we have an escaped-debris burn, which is our leading cause of wildfires; people can’t believe how fast it took off,” Rogers said. “They just don’t understand that once the wind will grab hold of a fire, it can really push it and move it a lot quicker than they ever thought possible.”

Rogers suggested that people check with their county offices and municipalities if they’re giving out permits. He said the DNR has halted them. And, because it rained Wednesday in Battle Creek and southeast Michigan, they may be issuing permits in those places. However, he’s hearing many municipalities aren’t.

“Campfires are still fine. Enjoy yourself, but if you are going to have a campfire, try and have them after 6 p.m. That’s when the winds die down, and it’s a much safer time to do it," Rogers said. "And, always have a water source available whether it be a bucket or a hose just to make sure if it escapes, you can put it out.”

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