By Adrienne Bozic and Chelsea Richardson
On May 23, a lightning strike sparked a wildfire that burned more than 21,000 acres in the eastern Upper Peninsula, the third largest Michigan wildfire in modern history. This fire burned for 20 days before it was considered 100 percent contained.
The toll on local homeowners was devastating; the fire destroyed 136 structures, including 47 homes, a store, and the famous Rainbow Lodge at the mouth of the Two Hearted River. The fire stretched all the way to Lake Superior, almost thirteen miles north of its southern extent. At final tally, the fire burned 21,069 acres, making it the third-largest wildfire in modern Michigan history after the 25,000-acre Mack Lake Fire (1980) and the 72,000-acre Seney Fire (1976).
A total of 300 personnel assisted with the Duck Lake Fire, building 42.6 miles of fire line, almost half of them dug by hand. Cooperating agencies included the Michigan State Police, Luce County Sheriff’s Department, Luce County Emergency Management, Wisconsin DNR, American Red Cross and Salvation Army. Many news reports noted that Luce County and Newberry residents would line the streets in the evening as fire personnel drove home for the night, cheering loudly and holding signs thanking them for their hard work.
Many natural areas in Luce County were affected by the fire, which can have potentially positive ecological responses in fire-adapted ecosystems such as those found in the Duck Lake fire area. Many ecosystems throughout Michigan are fire-dependent and require periodic fire to maintain their specific ecology and function. According to the DNR website, prescribed fire is also used to maintain habitats such as prairies. Many endangered species depend on warm season grasses and prairie remnants for their survival. Fire is also used to maintain large openings and oak savannahs. Savannahs are open, park-like areas with scattered trees. These areas need periodic fires to keep brush and trees from turning them into a forest.
A portion of MNA’s Swamp Lakes Moose Refuge was burned in the Duck Lake fire. On June 26, MNA’s Upper Peninsula Regional Stewardship Organizer Adrienne Bozic visited the sanctuary to survey the fire damage. Approximately 40 acres of the 160-acre sanctuary were affected, mainly along the southern tier of the property. The fire exhibited interesting behavior south of Pike Lake, possibly due to varying forest types present which have differing levels of combustibility and burn at different rates. For example, in Swamp Lakes, the fire abruptly stopped at areas dominated by broad-leaved hardwoods such as maple, which presumably formed a fire break of less-flammable material. Continue reading