Use caution when burning outdoors as spring wildfire season approaches
Outdoor burning that escapes and becomes uncontrolled is the single largest cause of wildland fires as reported by the Michigan DNR; threatening homes and communities lying in their destructive paths.
Given the proper conditions, there is always the potential for a wildfire to flare up and get rolling along. As soon as the snow recedes in the spring, exposing dead grass, leaves and needles, the chances of a wildland fires getting started increases. Although many think of the spring “fire season” as the only season when wildfires becomes a problem, some of Michigan’s historically most destructive wildfires have occurred in the summer and fall. So these wildland fire situations can challenge us throughout the year and landowners need to be prepared and take precautions.
Our modern-era history indicates the major source of ignition for wildland fires in Michigan has been from debris or open burning that escaped containment. In 2013, for example, the cause of more than one-third of all reported wildfires by the DNR in Michigan was attributed to debris burning.
Open burning, defined as “anywhere smoke and other emissions are released directly into the air without passing through a chimney or stack”, is regulated in Michigan. Public Act 102 of 2012 went into effect October 16, 2012 and prohibits the open burning of household trash that contains plastic, rubber, foam, chemically treated wood, textiles, electronics, chemicals or hazardous materials. In addition to the material restrictions, permits (with a few specific exceptions) are required for open burning whenever there is not a continuous snow covering on the ground.
Cooking or recreational campfires do not require a permit along with the burning of household paper materials as long as they are burned in a container constructed of metal or masonry, with a covering device having openings no larger than 3/4 of an inch. There are also some exceptions to open burning permitting for some agricultural practices.
It is important to understand that regardless of conditions or permitting, landowners are responsible for their actions connected with open or debris burning. If fire escapes containment and a wildland fire results, the party overseeing the burning can be held responsible for its escape along with the costs of suppressing the resulting wildfire damage or loss of property.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) maintains a website that tracks fire danger conditions by county throughout the state. Persons needing a burn permit can also obtain one with a visit to the same web site. Individuals without internet access in need of information or to obtain a burn permit need to contact their local Fire Manager stationed at their local district MDNR office. For southern 1/3 of the State, permits are issued at the county level so persons need to check on a county to county basis on how to obtain a permit.
Homeowners need to also check with their county, town, city or village for restrictions. Local restrictions take precedence over state permitting. A brief overview of local ordinances and restrictions can be reviewed at a web location maintained by the MDNR.
For additional information, resources and links to wildland fire and Firewise Communities items; Michigan State University Extension maintains a Michigan Firewise web site. For weekly updates on Firewise activities around the state follow MSU Extension Firewise on Facebook.