Firefighters gain control of wildfire in lower northern Michigan

Mark Hicks Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

The controlled burn in northern Lower Michigan that escalated into a wildfire and burned about 6,100 acres over the weekend still was burning Sunday but under control, with no injuries or loss of homes, authorities said.

Full containment of the Brittle Fire could take until Friday, authorities said. 

The fire in Iosco County on the Huron Shores Ranger District of the Huron-Manistee National Forest started Friday in an effort to restore natural conditions. The purpose of the controlled burn was "to reduce hazardous fuels, restore ecosystem function with fire-adapted vegetation and enhance wildlife habitat," the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement. Multiple agencies, and aircraft, including tankers, were helping.

But by nightfall Friday, the flames had jumped the containment lines and became an uncontrolled fire; within a few hours, firefighters had the blaze back under control. 

By Sunday morning, the fire reached 40% containment, meaning the amount of fire line deemed secure and was expected to continue rising throughout the day, said Joshua Veal, a public affairs officer for the Huron-Manistee National Forests.

The flames somehow jumped a containment line, said Debra-Ann Brabazon, a fire prevention education specialist and fire information officer with the U.S. Forest Service.

Authorities immediately tried to suppress the blaze, but "we were unable to contain it," Veal said.

Veal said firefighters took advantage of cooler weather Friday night and gained control of the blaze between 9 and 10 p.m.

Authorities Sunday asked the public to stay away from closed areas to allow the firefighters, engines, helicopters and other equipment to work.

Firefighters are patrolling along the fire area and extinguishing hot spots, a process known as mopping up. As that process is completed, containment of the fire increases. Firefighters are also working along public trails in the fire area to remove fire-damaged hazard trees that may fall into the trail.

"We're strengthening the fire line, working on increasing the containment," Veal said.

Michigan State Police reported about 65 residents in the area around Iosco County, north of Sand Lake and south of Cooke Dam Pond near Oscoda, were forced to leave. 

A subdivision in nearby Oscoda Township and in an area near Wilber also were evacuated.

Monday morning, the Type 2 Eastern Area Incident Management Gold Team will assume command of the Brittle Fire and are bringing additional resources for support.

Officials said multiple aircraft were on the scene.

The Huron-Manistee National Forests officials urged the public not to fly any unmanned aircraft systems or drones over or near the fire.

“Unauthorized drone flights pose serious risks to firefighter and public safety and the effectiveness of wildfire suppression operations,” according to a press release.

The scope of the fire was shown on NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management System online.