Crews fighting 2,000-acre fire in Montmorency, Cheboygan counties

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Michigan Department of Natural Resources firefighters and other emergency responders were fighting a 2,000-acre wildfire Friday in Montmorency and Cheboygan counties that raged for hours, sparking road closures and evacuations.

The uncontained blaze, called the Blue Lakes Fire, was northwest of Atlanta, the DNR said.

It initially was pegged at 1,500 acres but had grown by 9 p.m., Kerry Heckman, a DNR public information officer, told The Detroit News.

DNR firefighters and local partners responded Friday to an uncontained, 1,500-acre fire in Montmorency County.

“The fire is fueled by a mix of jack pine, mixed pine and grasses, with a very large smoke plume visible from miles away,” she said. 

One property, the Black River Ranch, had been evacuated along with 13 people there, the department reported. The Black River was closed between Blue Lake Road and the Cheboygan/Montmorency County line.

There were no immediate reports of damaged buildings or injuries, Heckman said.

More evacuations could be ordered if the fire spreads, she said. "Luckily it happens to be an area where there are not a lot of structures, but we will be continuing to watch that."

DNR aircraft were helping douse the flames as crews worked on the ground. 

There were 40 DNR firefighters and 12 incident management team members working with seven fire departments: Tri-Township, Hillman Area, Vienna, Canada Creek Ranch Fire Brigade, Albert Township, Charlton Township and Onaway, officials said. Michigan State Police as well as Montmorency County Sheriff's and Emergency Management officials also were on hand, Heckman said.

The operation was expected to last through the night. As the humidity levels shift, "that offers an opportunity to make good headway," Heckman said.

There were multiple road closures in the area to accommodate the firefighting efforts, the DNR said: Blue Lakes Road to East Branch Road; Black River Road to Camp 30 Road; Clark Bridge Road to Black River Road; Blue Lake Road to Meridian Line Road.

The scope was captured on satellite images the National Weather Service released Friday.

Smoke from the fire was captured on radar and satellite, the National Weather Service in Gaylord said on its Facebook page.

The flames first were spotted around 12:40 p.m., Heckman said. "We have not determined what caused the fire (but) it is a day that we have extreme fire danger based on dry conditions."

The weather service issued a notice Friday warning of an elevated fire danger in northern Michigan due to "record breaking heat, low afternoon relative humidity and slightly breezy winds."

Traverse City reached a record of 94 on Friday, beating the previous mark, 87, set in 1961, weather service data show. Houghton Lake tied its record high of 86 set in 1991.

The average high for the date is 66, according to the weather service website.

Temperatures late Friday at Otsego County Airport hovered in the 80s.

Highs around 80 were expected again Saturday, when the weather service predicts a 60% chance of showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon.

The mercury is set to top out in the upper 60s on Sunday then fall into the 40s at night.