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Firefighting planes deployed to Gaylord over extreme fire risk

U.S. Forest Service

Firefighting planes and helicopters have been deployed to Gaylord due to a very high to extreme risk of wildfires, especially in that region.

“Aircraft allows for the quickest attack with a larger delivery of water than a typical fire engine can carry," according to Eastern Region North Zone Aviation Officer Chad Runyan. "It also reduces the need for ground-based firefighting operations on initial attack.”

Officials say recent rains did not do much to reduce the risk of fire in the area, because the air and ground has been so hot, the water quickly evaporated.

Huron-Manistee National Forests Fire and Aviation Staff Officer Joe Alyea says that the stretch of dry, hot weather has no definitive end in sight. “The prepositioning of this aircraft makes response time critical during elevated fire danger."

Alyea says the Independence Day weekend resulted in multiple wildfires caused by aerial fireworks. 

But  the leading cause of wildfires the Forest Service responds to is still debris burning.  He says residents need to check the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Burn Permit website to verify that the state agency is issuing burn permits. 

People are also being urged not to burn household trash and recyclables, which is not allowed under any circumstance, because toxic fumes from plastics and other materials in a threat to air quality.

Debra-Ann Brabazon is the wildfire prevention specialist for the Huron Manistee Forest.  She says it's not just residents who need to be cautious.  Anyone heading north to camp or stay in their cottage or rent a cottage need to take precautions with outdoor fires.

"It is so incredibly important that everybody 'drown, stir, and feel,' to make sure that their campfires are dead out and cold to the touch," says Brabazon.  She says it can take much more water than people realize to fully extinguish a fire - think "drowning" it.  Embers and ash should also be spread out to allow the materials to cool.

The final step is to actually touch materials in the fire.  If they are warm, or hot, the fire is not extinguished, and it can still cause a wildfire.

Brabazon says 99% of wildfires are caused by humans.  She says people who start a campfire  also need to be aware of the risk to children.  

"Children often get up in the morning and see those soft ashes in the fire and it looks like something fun to play in," she says. 

That can result in serious burns if there are still hot embers under the ash.  And if the child is wearing synthetic clothing that catches fire, it increases the risk of severe burns.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.