Michigan Crews Battle Two Forest Fires


Firefighters on Thursday battled to contain two wildfires that consumed at least 15 square miles of Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula.

The fires destroyed or damaged at least 18 homes and 39 other buildings, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Carrie Scott said. No injuries have been reported, but a number of people remain evacuated from their homes.

"There's still danger," Scott said. "It's for everyone's safety" to remain away from the fire areas.

The larger fire burned about 8,800 acres in Crawford County's South Branch Township, Scott said. The site is near the Oscoda County line, about 60 miles east of Traverse City. The flames worked their way into part of the Mason Tract, a 4,700-acre undeveloped woodland along the south branch of the Au Sable River treasured by hikers and anglers.

As of Thursday morning, that fire had destroyed 12 homes and damaged two others, while damaging or destroying 39 outbuildings such as garages or sheds, Scott said.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment is investigating the blaze, which was mostly on state and federal land and appeared to have started as a debris fire that roared out of control, said department spokeswoman Mary Dettloff.

Permits for outdoor burns have been canceled in several neighboring counties.

Crews used heavy equipment to dig a line around the blaze in hopes of preventing it from spreading, Dettloff said. About 90 percent of the perimeter had been encircled and the fire was 65 percent contained, or secure enough that flames were unlikely to jump the line.

"There were minor problems along the southern edge of the fire with it jumping in spots, but crews were able to put out the jumps in short order," Dettloff said.

More than 15 homes were evacuated, and the Red Cross opened a shelter at the Resurrection Life Center in Grayling, she said.

The second fire is about 25 miles away in Kalkaska County, and has burned about 1,000 acres, mostly within the Camp Grayling National Guard training complex.

It began with a deliberate burn but got out of control. It had damaged or destroyed four homes, Michigan National Guard Maj. Dawn Dancer said.

Camp Grayling's legal department was prepared to settle the owners' claims, Dancer said.

Two dozen people were evacuated from the area. Firefighters had encircled the fire with a bulldozer line and were hopeful it wouldn't spread beyond the line, Scott said.

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