Dry, Windy Conditions Fan Grass and Forest Fires in Michigan

Crews labored Tuesday to mop up a 250-acre fire at a hunting club in Montmorency County, one of dozens of wildfires that have sprung up recently as lack of rain, low humidity and gusty conditions turned much of Michigan into a tinder box.

''It's typical spring fire season,'' said Ron Wilson, resource protection manager in the fire management division of the Department of Natural Resources. ''We're dry and windy and people are just a little careless.''

State personnel had responded to 104 fires statewide through last Sunday that burned a combined 578 acres. On the same date a year ago, 47 fires had burned 170 acres. ''It's a little drier than it was last year, and it got drier earlier,'' Wilson said.

About two-thirds of this season's fires have been caused by people burning debris in their yards, he said.

The latest statewide figures didn't include the Montmorency County fire, which broke out Monday afternoon north of Atlanta at the Black River Ranch, Wilson said. It was unclear what caused the fire, which had been contained Tuesday.

Meanwhile, crews doused hot spots remaining from a fire that consumed about 66 acres near the Lake and Oceana county line. Two trailers and two outbuildings were destroyed. The fire started Monday on private property and jumped into the Manistee National Forest, said Carol Nilsson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

A helicopter made 15 water drops, and Forest Service ''smoke jumpers'' from other states helped local squads rein in the flames, Nilsson said.

Firefighters scurried to extinguish other fires around the state.

In Oceana County's Benona Township, a mile-long wildfire destroyed two Lake Michigan cottages, burned scores of beach stairways and threatened dozens of homes that firefighters managed to save.

The fire started in dune grass in the Deerwood Subdivision along Lake Michigan, then raced toward a second subdivision, Cheyenne Hills, a mile away. Curt Trott, chief of the Benona and Shelby township fire departments, estimated firefighters saved up to 30 cottages.

''We kind of leap-frogged. We worked around the cottages to keep them from going up. We jumped ahead to two or three more cottages. We worked to save those,'' Trott told The Muskegon Chronicle.

A state fire marshal investigation of the cause was expected.

A cigarette tossed onto a patch of dry grass ignited flames that burned three acres in Ionia County's Easton Township on Monday.

''One dry blade of grass _ that's all it takes,'' Capt. David Wirth, deputy director of the Ionia Department of Public Safety, told the Sentinel-Standard of Ionia.

In the Chippewa County community of Dafter, volunteers last weekend contained a 40-acre fire that began as a controlled burn to prepare a field for crops but flared out of control.

''All we did was contain it and keep it out of the woods,'' fire sergeant Bill Oglesby told The Evening News of Sault Ste. Marie.

The DNR has stopped issuing permits for outdoor burning in the Lower Peninsula, Wilson said. Rubbish fires in those areas are allowed only in an approved container made of cement or metal that have proper covers.

Campfires are allowed, but people are urged to make certain they are out completely before leaving the area, Wilson said.

Burning permits also are being withheld in the southern Upper Peninsula, where winter snow has melted. Permits are available north of state highways 28 and 41, where some snow remains and the ground is moist.