WELLSTON — With the long Fourth of July holiday weekend here, many will likely be enjoying all that Northern Michigan has to offer.
That likely means camping, hiking, biking, boating, swimming, and probably a campfire with roasted meat such as hotdogs and/or S'mores. While an event Thursday was focused on the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area and Lake Michigan Recreational area, Huron-Manistee National Forest officials want all Michiganders to be aware fire danger is very high all over the state and Northern Michigan region.
Thursday's event was held in the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area because it is visited by 35,000 recreation enthusiasts annually and it has become a desired destination for those within a day's drive. Visitors, however, often disregard the rules of the wilderness area and use wheeled and mechanized means in which to transport their camping equipment. This activity leaves a heavier footprint of visitor use that directly impacts erosion control and sustainable management of the roughly 3,500-acre wilderness.
Along with the increase in visitor use, forest service employees also discover a growing number of unattended and often abandoned, campfires, not only in the dispersed camping area but the developed sites found in Lake Michigan Recreational Area campground.
These fire remnants pose a visitor safety hazard. Dispersed camping across the landscape makes it difficult to locate and evacuate forest visitors in the event of a wildfire. Additionally, fire management response to wildfires in the wilderness is not a usual recourse of fire engines, suppression equipment, and aerial fire suppression tactics. Resources must travel by foot and carry all their materials, making operational activities more dangerous to first responders.
The forest service also wants people to know abandoned/unattended campfires all over the region increase the risk to wildfire during elevated fire danger over the Independence Day weekend. Huron-Manistee National Forest Public Affairs Officer Joshua Veal said abandoned campfires are not just confined to the Nordhouse area. They are problematic across National Forest System lands.
"We want to encourage people to please put out their campfires using the 'drown, stir and feel' method until the fire is out cold to the touch," he said.
The National Weather Service is predicting temperatures in the upper 80’s and lower 90’s, light winds with local gusts in the afternoon and relative humidities that could support and sustain a wildfire with threats to local communities and forest visitors. Fire Danger levels are expected to peak at Very High and even potentially Extreme over the next 7 days in Michigan’s lower peninsula.
While burn permits are not being issued currently, people can still have small campfires, assuming they properly monitor them and extinguish embers when they're finished.