All springtime burning requires caution, planning

With warmer weekend weather in the forecast for southern Michigan, many people likely will be outside cleaning up their yards or maybe enjoying the first bonfire of the season. A word of caution from the Department of Natural Resources: Anyone planning to burn leaves or other yard debris first should check with local officials to see if conditions are right for safe burning.

And although campfires still are permitted during times of increased fire danger, the DNR urges extreme caution with all fires.

“Though fires can happen just about any time of year, most wildfires in Michigan occur in April, May and June,” said DNR fire supervisor Don Klingler. “The dead grass and leaves from last year are still very dry, and it only takes one escaped spark to start a wildfire.”

So far this year, the DNR already has responded to 23 wildfires that burned 180 acres.

Burn permits are required when the ground is not snow-covered. Residents in southern Michigan should contact their local fire department or township office to see if burning is permitted in their area. Residents in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula can check for local burn permit status by visiting or calling 866-922-2876.

In addition, the DNR recommends people take the following steps to help prevent wildfires:

Pay attention to the fire danger in your area. Don’t burn debris when conditions are dry or windy.

Clear away flammable material surrounding a fire, so it won’t creep into dry vegetation.

Always have a shovel and water available when burning. Be sure to douse fires with plenty of water, stir and add more water until everything is wet.

Embers can re-ignite, so make sure they are out completely.

Consider composting or mulching yard debris rather than burning it.

When fire danger is extremely high, Michigan’s governor may issue a “burn ban” restricting all outdoor burning, although this is rare.

What about prescribed burns?

While the DNR is cautioning about careful backyard burning, residents also may be hearing about DNR prescribed burns in different areas of the state. Most recently, the DNR conducted prescribed burns in Allegan, Barry, Kalamazoo, Monroe and St. Joseph counties.

“It may seem confusing to hear simultaneous messages about fire caution and prescribed burns, but springtime also is an important time of year in forest management,” Klingler said. “Prescribed burns are an effective tool in helping to control invasive species, create critical wildlife habitat and regenerate forests.

“We want the public to know that prescribed burns are carefully planned, step by step, in consultation with local fire officials. We also closely monitor weather conditions, so that a prescribed burn can be called off at the last possible minute, if necessary.”

Stay up to date on Michigan wildfires with the DNR Wildland Fire Application. Learn more about wildfires and the DNR’s fire management program – including prescribed burns – at