Michigan Fire Season: In-Depth Guide

Explore the Michigan fire season with details from the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA). Learn when it is, how long it lasts, risk factors and more.

Published:July 18, 2023
Edited:
March 1, 2024

Table of Contents

    Explore the Michigan fire season with details from the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA). Learn when it is, how long it lasts, risk factors and more.

    Michigan is bordered by four of the five Great Lakes in the United States: Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie. The state includes an Upper Peninsula, connected to Wisconsin, and a Lower Peninsula, which touches Indiana and Ohio. While this region is typically humid enough to avoid major wildfire damage, Michigan is still at significant risk for human-caused wildfires. This risk is growing as climate change affects temperatures and weather patterns. Learn about Michigan’s fire-adapted ecosystems and some ways to help prevent wildfire in this area.

    When is Michigan Fire Season?

    According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, most of Michigan’s wildfires occur in the spring, between April and June.1

    Risk Factors for Wildfires in Michigan

    Weather

    Michigan experiences more wildfires during the spring, after the snow melts. Dry, windy days can spread wildfire quickly due to low humidity and the wind’s ability to carry burning debris.2 

    Fuel

    In the spring, rising temperatures and decreased humidity in Michigan dry out vegetation from the previous year. A single ember can ignite a wildfire under these conditions.1 Most trees in Michigan are northern hardwoods and conifers, which are leafy hardwood trees that do not burn easily. However, the jack pine is also common in the state and its seeds are released by fire, which makes it very susceptible to burning.3

    Human Activity

    Nationally, nearly 90% of wildfires are human-caused.4 In Michigan, the most common cause of wildfire is people burning yard debris.2 To reduce wildfire risk, Michigan residents should monitor any fire or smoking material until it is completely extinguished and never light a fire on windy, dry days.5 Michigan residents can check the need for burn permits in their county.6

    Additionally, it is important for Michigan residents and visitors to have fire extinguishing tools. Fires in rural and forested areas of the state are harder to control due to a lack of local firefighters. People in remote areas of Michigan are encouraged to have a plan for wildfire safety and use wildfire mitigation strategies on their property.2

    In Michigan, most wildfires take place in the Spring due to drier and windier conditions.

    How Wildfire Season in Michigan is Changing

    Michigan’s ecosystems encompass deciduous forests and swamps, pine and conifer forests, marshlands, bogs, meadows, and prairie.7 Because of these wide-ranging ecosystems, as well as varied land management practices, it is difficult to predict how wildfire risks will change throughout the Great Lakes region. Climate change will affect forest health and raise wildfire risk in the summer as Michigan temperatures increase. Rising temperatures also contribute to more droughts and lightning activity.8

    Recent Michigan Wildfires

    Michigan firefighters respond to between 10,000 to 12,000 wildfires each year.2 Many of these are small fires, but there has been significant fire damage throughout the state’s history. The largest Michigan wildfire in the 21st century was the Duck Lake Fire, which started from a lightning strike on May 24, 2012. The fire burned over 21,000 acres in just a few days.9 Below is a list of recent major wildfires in Michigan.

    Oats Fire (2023)10
    Start Date: 6/3/2023
    Location: Iosco County
    Acres Burned: 100+
    Cause: Unknown
    Wilderness Trail Fire (2023)11
    Start Date: 6/3/2023
    Location: Crawford and Iosco Counties
    Acres Burned: 3,000
    Cause: Human caused (campfire)
    Blue Lakes Fire (2022)12
    Start Date: 5/11/2022
    Location: Montmorency and Cheboygan Counties
    Acres Burned: 2,516
    Cause: Lightning
    Horne Fire (2021)13
    Start Date: 8/10/2021
    Location: Isle Royale
    Acres Burned: 335
    Cause: Lightning
    Brittle Fire (2021)14
    Start Date: 4/23/2021
    Location: Iosco County
    Acres Burned: 5,781
    Cause: Human (escaped prescribed burn)
    M-72 Fire (2020)3
    Start Date: 5/22/2020
    Location: Crawford County
    Acres Burned: 105
    Cause: Unknown
    Oak Fire (2018)15
    Start Date: 5/1/2018
    Location: Newaygo County
    Acres Burned: 105
    Cause: Unknown
    Grayling Fire (2018)
    Start Date: 5/1/2018
    Location: Crawford County
    Acres Burned: 44
    Cause: Unknown
    Bond Mill Pond Fire (2018)
    Start Date: 5/1/2018
    Location: Wexford County
    Acres Burned: 79
    Cause: Unknown

    Historical Michigan Wildfire Trends

    Prior to European settlers arriving in Michigan, wildfire was common. Fires started either by lightning strikes or the native people in the area. Forest, prairies, and wetlands in the state burned with varying degrees of intensity. Native tribes, such as the Potawatomi Indians, planned and implemented controlled burns to cultivate food and attract wild animals for easy hunting.16

    In October 1871, wildfires spread across the Upper Midwest, killing thousands of people and destroying millions of acres. Several factors led to the wildfires that burned in Michigan during this deadly fire season, including drought, logging and agricultural clear-cutting, human ignorance about fire dangers, and weather conditions.17 In the last 150 years, the United States has adopted a culture of fire suppression that prioritizes timber and human property. This approach affects Michigan’s ecosystem, as prairies are consumed by encroaching forests.18 Currently, controlled burns are starting to be used to support native plants and pollinators, prevent invasive species, and maintain Michigan landscapes that rely on regular fires to clear the land.16

    Michigan Wildfire Resources

    Sources

    1. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, “Michigan fire season builds during Wildfire Prevention Week.” Accessed June 29, 2023.
    2. Michigan Prepares, “Wildfire.” Accessed June 30, 2023.
    3. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, “ Firefighters knock back 105-acre fire in jack pines near Grayling.” Accessed June 30, 2023.
    4. Congressional Research Service, “Wildfire Statistics.” Accessed February 15, 2023.
    5. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, “Fire safety: Prevent wildfire!” Accessed June 30, 2023.
    6. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, “Burn permits: Check open burning status.” Accessed June 30, 2023.
    7. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, “Ecosystems, Landscapes, & Your Property.” Accessed July 3, 2023.
    8. Michigan State University, “Climate Change and Wildfire in the Great Lakes Region.” Accessed July 5, 2023.
    9. Radio Results Network, “TEN YEARS ON: Michigan DNR Remembers Large U.P. Wildfire.” Accessed July 5, 2023.
    10. ABC12 “2,400-acre wildfire closes I-75, leads to evacuations near Grayling.” Accessed July 3, 2023.
    11. Click on Detroit, “DNR: 85% of 3,000-acre wildfire trail caused by campfire in Northern Michigan is contained.” Accessed June 30, 2023.
    12. Click on Detroit, “Blue Lakes Fire in Northern Michigan is 98% contained, DNR says.” Accessed June 30, 2023.
    13. National Park Service, “Isle Royale Horne Fire Final 2021 Update.” Accessed July 3, 2023.
    14. Michigan Live, “Iosco County fire that began as U.S. Forest Service controlled burn now 98% contained.” Accessed June 30, 2023.
    15. The Cedar Springs Post, “DNR fire crews respond to wildfires May 1.” Accessed July 3, 2023.
    16. Center for Tree Ring Science, “Tree-ring research illuminates early fire history of Lower Michigan.” Accessed July 5, 2023.
    17. National Weather Service, “The Great Midwest Wildfires of 1871.” Accessed June 30, 2023.
    18. MDIP, “Assessing the Ecological Need for Prescribed Fire in Michigan Using GIS-Based Multicriteria Decision Analysis: Igniting Fire Gaps.” Accessed July 5, 2023.

    Is Fire Living or Non-Living?

    Is fire living or non-living? Explore the depths of this question with expert guidance from the team at the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA).

    How Does Wildfire Affect Soil and Vegetation?

    Delve into the aftermath of wildfires on soil and vegetation. Understand the ecological impact and explore strategies for recovery and restoring biodiversity.

    What To Do if You Live in a Wildfire Prone Area

    Living in a wildfire prone area? Learn essential tips on wildfire preparedness and safeguarding your home. Be proactive in protecting your community and property.

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