CADILLAC — There’s nothing quite like the smell of smoke and crackle of flames to remind one of summer nights in Northern Michigan.
An unscientific online Cadillac News poll found that hosting or going to a bonfire was deemed the most popular thing to do during summertime, with 65.6% of respondents reporting it was an activity they enjoyed above most others.
With summer temperatures and bonfire season soon to kick into high gear, the Cadillac News spoke to an expert who offered tips on how to have the maximum amount of the fun without compromising on safety.
We also gathered information on the second and third most popular summertime activities: find out what they are later in the story.
The do’s and don’ts of bonfires and campfires
Debra-Ann A Brabazon, fire information and prevention education specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, said the first thing you have to do before making a bonfire is obtain a burn permit.
While it’s not necessary to get a permit for a small campfire, a bonfire typically is much larger and poses a greater risk of spreading, especially if not carefully tended.
Also, make sure to check the fire danger level of the area where you will be hosting a fire.
Make sure to encircle the fire in a pit or with rocks and ensure it isn’t on top of tree roots, which can light on fire and travel underground.
Clear the area around the fire of debris and other flammable substances for several feet in case embers fly out; also check overhead to make sure there are no overhanging tree limbs that could be ignited and cause a canopy fire.
It’s important to only burn wood and other natural debris such as pine needles and pine cones.
With the violent storms knocking down countless trees in the area last September, Brabazon said it shouldn’t be too hard to locate firewood.
Don’t burn materials such as plastic, pressure-treated construction timber, metal, household trash, cigarette butts and other non-biodegradable items.
Brabazon said such items often emit toxic vapors when burned and can actually cause people to get sick if they cook food over them.
They also leave pollutants in the soil that can remain for a very long time, potentially emitting fumes every time anyone else uses the burn pit.
It’s also not a very good idea to burn newspaper, as it is lightweight and can be picked up by the convective heat of the fire and thrown somewhere else, possibly igniting a forest fire.
When starting the fire, Brabazon said there should not be any reason to use accelerants but if you absolutely have to, use lighter fluid.
Under no conditions should one use gasoline to start a fire, as the vapors can quickly ignite and cause an explosion.
Over the course of the night, gradually feed the fire; don’t dump all the fuelwood on at once.
When choosing pieces of wood, keep them under 4 feet in length.
“You don’t want pieces to be sticking out of the fire,‘ Brabazon said. “Keep it small, not tall.‘
If cooking food and something falls into the fire, don’t attempt to retrieve it at that time but make sure to remove whatever is left in the pit once you douse the fire so animals aren’t lured into the area.
When you are ready to call it a night, make sure the fire the completely extinguished.
Keep at least one 5 gallon bucket of water at the fire site and dump the water gradually into the fire, continually stirring the contents.
Brabazon said dumping the water too fast can result in a sudden release of heat, which can cause embers to be thrown.
Once extinguished, the pit should be cool to the touch, with no residual hissing or popping; leaving the fire in this state may cause it to reignite.
Finally, keep in mind at all times when around a fire that loose-hanging clothes and hair can easily become ignited, even off of the hot surfaces around the flame, Brabazon said.
Boating and camping
Coming in second and third place in the Cadillac News survey of fun things to do in the summertime were boating and camping.
Brenda Pylkas, with the DNR, said bookings at the Mitchell State Park in Cadillac are trending higher and higher each year.
So far, they are completely booked up during weekends in July.
She said people are coming from all over the region, including Grand Rapids, Indiana, Bay City, and Saginaw, to name a few.
Locals also are taking advantage of the park, comprising an estimated 15% of people who camp there, Pylkas said.
In Northern Michigan, there are many options for camping, including rustic and the more luxurious variety.
Privately-owned campgrounds in Wexford County include Northern Exposure, Camp Cadillac, and Cadillac Woods.
Publicly owned rustic campgrounds include the Hemlock Federal Campground, the Baxter Bridge State Forest Campground, Old U.S. 131 State Forest Campground and Long Lake Campground.
At a rustic campground, there is no electricity, water must be pumped and there are only outhouses or pit toilets, Pylkas said.
In Missaukee County, sites include the Goose Lake Campground, Long Lake (Missaukee) Campground, and Hopkins Creek Trail Campground.
Options in Osceola County include Crittenden Park and Rose Lake Park.
As for boating options in the area, the DNR has a comprehensive list of sites their website; just type in an area.
The site also lists all the fish known to be in the body of water, availability of parking, boat launches, bathrooms, and other public amenities.