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Michigan wildfires: How to make sure your campfire is safe

Scorched trees 
Several Michigan wildfires have recently spread as a result of campfires left unattended. (Courtesy photo from Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
  • Most of Michigan is at ‘very high’ or ‘extreme’ risk of fire due to heat and low precipitation.
  • Nine in 10 wildfires are caused by human activity.
  • Keeping water sources nearby, fully dousing campfires and being mindful of weather can help prevent wildfires.

June 29: Air quality warning pushed to Friday in Michigan; doctors urge outdoor limits
June 28: When will the smoke clear in Michigan? What you need to know in the meantime
June 27: Michigan under statewide advisory as Canada wildfire smoke hits Midwest

As wildfire season in Michigan gets off to an intense start, officials are urging extra fire safety precautions when it comes to campfires and power equipment. With most of the state under “very high” or “extreme” fire risk, here’s what you can do to avoid contributing to the large majority of human-caused wildfires.

Can I still burn a campfire?  

Though Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday discouraged residents from lighting any outdoor fires, there is no statewide burn ban in place, so campfires and cooking fires are still permitted. Some municipalities have issued burn restrictions. Check with your local officials before starting any fires.



How should I put out a campfire safely? 

Beth Fults, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources incident management team, says campfires can quickly escalate into wildfires. She recommended keeping a reliable water source and a tool to put out a fire, such as a rake or a shovel, nearby.

When putting out a campfire, check its temperature with the back of your hand to make sure it’s completely extinguished. Even if you don’t live near a forest, dry grass can easily catch and spread fire. 

“If you are at the end of the night, and you're getting ready to turn in, and you put the back of your hand over your campfire, and you still feel heat, then you should not leave your campfire,” Fults said. 

What happens if my small campfire begins to spread?

If a fire does start, don’t try to put it out yourself — immediately call 911 and evacuate the area.

“So what we don't want people to do is try to put it out themselves,” Fults said. “We want people to call 911 immediately, because we don't want people to put themselves in harm's way.”

What is a burn permit? 

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has ceased issuing burn permits in northern Michigan and the upper peninsula because of the dry conditions. The DNR issues burn permits to residents who want to burn leaves, grass, limbs, brush, stumps and evergreen needles. Paper materials that don’t contain paper materials that do not contain plastic, chemicals or hazardous materials can also be burned with a permit. 

The DNR is in charge of issuing or halting burn permits in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Local fire departments or officials may issue permits in the southern Lower Peninsula.

Helpful ways to prevent forest fires

As the state’s dry spell continues, you should always keep weather conditions in mind. Hot, dry air and high winds are ideal conditions for a fire to start and spread, so think twice before burning on a windy day. 

Patrick Ertel, public information officer for the DNR’s incident management team, warned that dry conditions leading up to the Fourth of July could be a cause for concern, because fireworks could easily spread to dry underbrush and leaves. 


"We desperately need a really good soaking rain and that could really reset ... some of the fire risk."

The DNR encourages people to: 

  • Check weather conditions before starting a fire.  
  • Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Always put fires out completely with water. Drench the coals, stir with a shovel and drench again.
  • Don’t park vehicles over dry grass; heat from vehicles can ignite dry grass. 
  • Make sure no trailer chains are dragging, which can create sparks. 
  • Be cautious when using power equipment outside.

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