Warm winter leads to fiery forecast

There are increasing concerns from fire officials and the 7&4 Storm Team that a few factors could lead to a higher than normal fire danger this spring/early summer.

Almost all locations have reported less than average snowfall, although some rain did make up a bit of that difference. In a nutshell though, we enter the spring fire season with drier than normal conditions.

The lower snowfall, coupled with an extended/prolonged period of temperatures well above normalâ?¦ akaâ?¦ 70â??s in spots is a ripe combination. Those warmer temperatures tend to dry out the fuel quicker, and with no snow on the ground here well before things turn green, fire season could get off to a much earlier start than normal. Another factor to consider, with the warm temperatures, people will be outdoors a lot more, camping, etcâ?¦ so itâ??s certainly something to watch for carefully.

Department of Natural Resources is urging people to use extreme caution before engaging in outdoor activities with the potential for wildfire.

"Several winter storms have created a tremendous clean-up task in many areas," said Bill O'Neill, the DNR's acting Forest Resources Division chief and state forester. "We are urging people to consider fire-safe alternatives, such as chipping instead of burning the debris. Chipping eliminates the risk of wildfire altogether and it reduces exposure to unhealthy smoke. An added bonus, the wood chips can be used as mulch for landscaping around your home."

For those who do expect to burn yard waste, the DNR asks that you plan carefully and follow the following fire-safe tips:

Check first with local fire official to be certain burning is not prohibited where you live.

Choose a day that is cool and damp to conduct your burn. The likelihood an ember will escape from a burn pile and ignite a wildfire drastically increases on warm, windy days.

Arrange small mounds of debris in spots cleared of flammable vegetation or adjacent to any remaining snow, which will further reduce the chances of a wildfire igniting.

"Springtime is Michigan's busiest time of year for wildfires. With a little planning and careful attention to outdoor surroundings, residents can play a huge role in helping us reduce the number of wildfires," said O'Neill. "It's all about keeping our people, property and natural resources safe from fire's devastating effects."

Burn permits are required anytime the ground is not snow-covered. In the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula, residents can obtain a free burn permit online. People without internet access may call 1-800-922-2876.

In southern Michigan, burn permits and information on burning can be obtained from local fire departments and township offices.

For more information on wildfire safety, open burning, home preparedness and other fire-related topics, click on this link.