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Wildfire brought under control in Crawford County

Mark Hicks and John Russell
The Detroit News

Grayling — State officials said Friday that a wildfire in Crawford County in northern Michigan had been brought under control.

The blaze, which spread across more than 100 acres that included privately owned jack pine stands, prompted evacuations from about 70 homes near Grayling. 

Firefighters seen near a Grayling Fire Department firetruck on Thursday, May 21, 2020. Firefighter helped extinguish a wildfire that forced evacuations east of Grayling in Crawford County.

The fire was reported about 5 p.m. Friday along M-72 between Stephan Bridge Road and S. Horseshoe Trail, about eight miles east of Grayling, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The fire, which burned a swath about one mile long and 0.2 miles wide, was contained around 8:30 p.m. Thursday, DNR said. Evacuated residents returned to their homes shortly after 9 p.m. Two outbuildings were destroyed.

State officials said dry conditions in the northern Lower Peninsula, after a few days of dry conditions and the presence of jack pine, which is fire-prone, led to the blaze.

Kerry Wieber, a DNR public information officer, said aircraft spotted the flames and directed fire crews to the site. About a dozen units responded to fight the blaze.

Firefighters arrived to find the fire reaching the nearby jack pines and sought backup from other county agencies, Ballard said.

The U.S. Forest Service had planes dropping water, and the fire was contained, but not extinguished, by 8:45 p.m., and is not likely to spread, Wieber said.

The Michigan DNR surveyed the smoke and flames from an aircraft Thursday.

"The fire was contained due to quick response," Ballard said, adding officials were expected to remain on the scene for two to three days to check hot spots. "They are going to be making sure the fire does not go anywhere."

The cause of the fire is under investigation, and "we are still asking people to stay away from the area as much as possible," Ballard said.

The wildfire can be seen east of Grayling on Thursday.

There were no injuries reported Thursday, and only an outbuilding was damaged, he said.

"Everything appears to be minimal, which is outstanding," Wieber said.

Evacuees were housed at the Grayling High School gym during the response by county request, said Justin Gluesing, the superintendent for Crawford AuSable School District. "At approximately 9 p.m., we were informed that evacuees were able to return home and we shut down operations."

The American Red Cross was helping arrange shelter for two families that reported prior medical issues exacerbated by the smoke, Ballard said.

John L. Russell is a photojournalist and writer from Traverse City.