A wildfire that started Wednesday in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is on track to become the state’s third-largest wildfire in more than 140 years.
Dry conditions, high temperatures, and strong winds in the region are preventing fire officials from suppressing a blaze in Luce County, which encompasses Lake Superior State Forest. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says the fire can be tracked to a lightning strike in the area. On Thursday, the blaze spread across 9,500 acres, intensifying Friday when the fire burned a total of 17,000 acres, or more than 26 square miles.
Officials say the fire is spreading by the tops of jack pines.
No injuries are reported to date. Evacuations have been ordered. State officials say six buildings were destroyed and over 40 more are under threat.
The state department of natural resources reports that by May 13, before the current blaze they are calling the Duck Lake fire, a total of 239 wildfires have burned over 1,800 acres in the state, destroying 25 buildings. By the same date last year, a total of 80 wildfires are on record.
May marks the end of Michigan’s three-month wildfire season, although blazes are known to ignite at other parts of the year. This recent season posed significant risks considering the warm summer temperatures that set records for much of March and April.
The state estimates that between 8,000 to 10,000 wildfires burn each year, but they are often small, covering between five to 50 acres.
In addition to the Duck Lake fire, fire crews also battled the Seney fire, a wildfire that started Monday that ended up destroying as many as 3,200 acres, or five square miles, in the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, west of the Duck Lake fire. The refuge, which covers about 95,000 acres, remains closed. No injuries or building damage is reported, officials said.
The last significant wildfire in Michigan was the Sleeper Lake fire of 2007, which burned 18,000 acres, also in Luce County in the Upper Peninsula. At the time, the blaze was registered as the third largest in the state since 1881, the year when 1.1 million acres were destroyed in the “thumb” region of the Lower Peninsula of the state, resulting in 282 dead.
The second most damaging wildfire in the state took place in 1980 near Mio, Mich., which spread over 25,000 acres, destroying 44 homes and resulting in one death.