Firefighters gaining ground on 2,700-acre wildfire in Montmorency, Cheboygan counties

Michigan Department of Natural Resources firefighters and other emergency responders had contained about 60% of a 2,700-acre wildfire that has raged in northern Michigan over the weekend, authorities said.

The fire, sparked by lightning, led to road closures and evacuations in Montmorency and Cheboygan counties.

The fire was 30% contained Saturday morning.

"Fire crews and local partners (are) working to connect remaining containment line gaps in wet, low-lying areas," the DNR said in a press release on Sunday.

"The increase in acreage from Saturday’s estimate is based on more accurate GPS measurement of the area," the press release said. "Fire activity is expected to be lower (Sunday) due to more favorable weather conditions and ongoing mop-up efforts."

On Saturday, the fire was described as having spread over about 2,300 acres.

DNR spokesman Tim Webb said in the release that crews were pulled off fire lines temporarily Saturday afternoon due to lightning risk.

“Although northeast Michigan had widespread rain Saturday afternoon, little fell in the fire area,” he said.

DNR spokeswoman Kerry Heckman said Saturday that a group of kayakers on the Black River was escorted to safety by a DNR conservation officer, and the Black River Ranch, where 12 structures are threatened, was evacuated.

Heckman said one firefighter sustained a minor injury and received medical treatment.

Elsewhere in the fire area, a shed was a total loss and a vehicle was damaged.

“We are grateful to report no life-threatening injuries and no serious property damage, as everyone on the scene gives their best effort to suppress this fire,” Heckman said in the statement. “Thank you to everyone who has followed reports and steered clear of this area.”

A burning stump smolders Saturday, May 14, 2022.

The fire was reported mid-day Friday. A lightning strike, likely from a thunderstorm Wednesday, was determined to be the cause of the fire.

Heckman said a small amount of firefighters remained on the scene overnight to  "ensure the public's safety" and keep the wildfire from spreading further.

DNR firefighters receive morning briefing Saturday before beginning fire suppression efforts.

By 7 a.m. Saturday, a full crew of firefighters showed up to continue trying to knock down the wildfire, said Heckman.

"They're working on the fire until it's fully contained," Heckman said.

Crews unlaoded bulldozers and plows to dig a fire line. The fire was 30% contained over 2,000 acres Saturday morning.

Heckman said no additional evacuation were anticipated and no residential areas were immediately threatened. 

The area was under red flag warnings for wildfire danger earlier in the week because of dry vegetation and high winds, but Heckman said no such warning was in place Friday or Saturday as winds were calmer.

Map showing fire boundaries on Saturday, May 14.

Road and river closures

Road closures remain have been expanded to protect the public and accommodate fire suppression efforts. The closures include:

•East Branch Road and Black River Road between 622 and Canada Creek Road.

•Clark Bridge Road between Black River Road and Osmun Road.

•Blue Lakes Road between Hardwood Lake Road and East Branch Road.

•Black River Road between Blue Lakes Road and the Meridian Line Road and 622 intersection.

•The Black River between Blue Lakes Road and Clark Bridge Road.

The DNR has 43 firefighters, a 13-member incident management team and a spotter plane at the scene. They are assisted by six U.S. Forest Service firefighters and a hand crew, as well as six local fire departments.

Tri Township EMS, Cheboygan EMS, Michigan State Police, the DNR Law Enforcement Division, Montmorency County Emergency Management and the Montmorency County Sheriff also are assisting.

Staff writer Mark Hicks and the Associated Press contributed.