2012-05-31 / Front Page

Wildfires plague eastern U.P.

Duck Lake Fire still rages in Luce County

An aerial photo shows the Duck Lake Fire on May 25. As of Wednesday morning, the fire was 55 percent contained. 
Photo courtesy DNR An aerial photo shows the Duck Lake Fire on May 25. As of Wednesday morning, the fire was 55 percent contained. Photo courtesy DNR NEWBERRY – Fire crews continue to fight a wildfire raging since last Wednesday, when a lightning bolt struck within a hard-to-reach area in Luce County. The fire, deemed the “Duck Lake Fire”, has consumed more than 21,000 acres and is Michigan’s largest fire this season, according to the DNR.

To date, the DNR estimates that 134 properties are located within the perimeter, of which 115 have been inspected, according to DNR spokesman Dean Wilson. Thirty- nine of these inspected properties have suffered losses, including: 41 homes/cabins, 22 garages, 27 sheds/outbuildings, 25 campers, one store, and one motel.

Using GPS information, the DNR has been tracking the fire, which they estimate to be 14 miles north of Newberry and 7 miles west of Tahquamenon Falls State Park campgrounds. Due to its proximity, the Tahquamenon Falls State Park was closed Friday, but opened again Wednesday, with the exception of a few trails.

The fire is made up of 40 miles of fire line, the DNR explained in a recent press release. Of that fire line, 21 miles is uncontained, six miles is a section of Lake Superior shoreline, and 13 miles is completed line. The release reiterates that access to the fire has proven difficult, due to the limited number of roads.

On Friday, Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of disaster in the Luce and Schoolcraft counties, permitted authorities to evacuate residents, and established a fireworks ban in the two affected counties and an outdoor burning ban in 49 other counties.

Monday’s rainfall assisted fire crews after high winds caused a “blowup” of a portion of the fire, and, as of Wednesday morning, the fire area was 55 percent contained.

“With the cooler temps and calmer winds expected today (Wednesday), we expect to be much more successful with a direct attack on the fire,” Wilson explained. “We have been gaining on the fire lines, and have the north half of the fire secure, and will now concentrate on getting the south end, from both the east and west sides under control … weather conditions are on our side.”

On Sunday, over 200 people attended a meeting at the McMillan Township Hall in Newberry for those evacuated by or those with questions about the fire. Another meeting was scheduled for Wednesday evening.

Those evacuated are currently being assisted by the American Red Cross, Superior Upper Peninsula Chapter, at a temporary shelter in the American Legion in Newberry. The volunteers are also providing water and snacks for the firefighters and nurses and counselors for all those affected, according to a press release from the organization.

Also on Sunday, homeowners in the Pike Lake and Little Lake Harbor areas were given tours by the Luce County Emergency Management team to assess any damage. According to the DNR, escorted site visits will be limited to those who own property within the fire line, and also depend upon fire conditions at the time.

A related incident, the Pike Lake Fire, broke out May 21, and suppression efforts had contained at 22 acres later that evening, according to the DNR. Mop-up efforts to extinguish hot spots continued through Thursday until the crew was forced away by the advancing Duck Lake Fire.

The DNR estimates a total of 232 personnel, including 53 overhead personnel, are involved in the Duck Lake Fire suppression efforts. Personnel include: Four DNR conservation officers and a sergeant; volunteer fire departments: Bay Mills, Garfield Township, Columbus Township, Portage Township, Whitefish Township, Superior Township, Village of Newberry and Kinross Township; 18 DNR fire engines; eight engines and two water tankers from volunteer fire departments; three Wisconsin DNR engines; 11 Michigan DNR and two Wisconsin DNR bulldozers; one U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helicopter; two Minnesota DNR air tankers; four Michigan National Guard aircraft and ground support; and a Keweenaw Bay Indian Community hand crew.

For those looking to donate to the efforts of the firefighters, Jeff Selesky, of the Red Cross, said there are two ways to do so. Interested parties can visit www.redcross.org, follow the prompts and earmark the money for a specific incident, such as the fire, or mail a check to the Superior Upper Peninsula Chapter of the Red Cross, 104 Coles Drive, Suite E, Marquette, Mich. 49855, with “disaster services” written in the memo section of the check.

For non-monetary donations, Selesky said firefighters are in greatest need of fresh athletic socks, any kind of foot powder, and cases of bottled water. People interested in donating can call Selesky at the American Legion in Newberry at (906) 293-8711 or Lori Miller at the Duck Lake Fire Help Center at (906) 293-3729 (or visit their Facebook page) for a list of drop off sites or more information.

“The firefighters have been so appreciative of the public outcry, and the fact that everyone has been helping so much,” Selesky said. “Newberry is about 15 miles from the fire scene, and when the firefighters come back through in their caravan each night, the street is lined with people cheering and waving … it is so neat to see.”

As far as donations for those displaced by the fire, Selesky said Luce County, in general, has rallied and taken care of all their need. In fact, he noted that there is no one currently staying in the shelter, since they have all been accommodated by local family and friends.

DNR officials are encouraging the public to be aware of road closures around the fire, and that the evacuation order remains in effect for the area from Pike Lake east to County Road 500 and north to Little Lake Harbor. Property owners within the fire perimeter can register their structure location and contact information by calling 2-1- 1 or (800) 338-1119.

The DNR strongly encourages all residents and visitors in all parts of the state to avoid open burning and use of any fireworks during this extremely high fire-danger season to minimize the possibility of more wildfires. For wildfire prevention tips, and for information on what is and is not permissible under the outdoor burning ban, visit www.michigan.gov/preventwildfires.

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