Saturday, August 01, 2015

DNR, township firefighters work to contain "County Road 601" wildfire in Humboldt Township

From Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Photos from Michigan DNR and Joe Derocha

Some of the roughly 80 acres burned by the Marquette "County Road 601" fire in Humboldt Township Thursday, July 30, and Friday, July 31. (Photos courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources unless otherwise indicated)

[Editor's Note: Scroll to the end of this article to see more photos -- taken Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015]

UPDATED: HUMBOLDT TOWNSHIP -- Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) firefighters and crews from four township volunteer fire departments have been battling a roughly 80-acre wildfire in Humboldt Township, Marquette County, which was first reported Thursday afternoon, July 30. The fire was reported as 95 percent contained on Friday afternoon, July 31, and now, Saturday, is 100 percent contained within the fire line according to the DNR.

"They're working anywhere from 50 to 100 ft. in from the fire line toward the center of the fire area," John Pepin, DNR deputy public information officer in Marquette, told Keweenaw Now on Saturday, Aug. 1.

This map shows the area of the wildfire in Humboldt Township. The red dotted area to the southeast is the fire's containment line. Click on map for larger version. (Map courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

Starting from the edge of the containment line that now completely encircles the fire area, firefighters use foam and water to put out the fire, Pepin explained.

As of Saturday afternoon, no new hot spots had been found outside the fire line. Some of the remaining remnants of the log piles, still hot, were being busted up Saturday.

Crews from the DNR and Wisconsin firefighters from Mellen and Waupaca remained on the scene Saturday and the Humboldt Township Fire Department continued to shuttle water.

Humboldt firefighters set up additional portable drop tanks to supply water to DNR fire equipment. Pictured here, from left, are William Derocha, Humboldt Township cadet firefighter; Craig Thompson, Humboldt firefighter; and Zack Quale, Humboldt communications director. (Photo © and courtesy Joe Derocha)

Firefighters continued to get water for the fire from the Humboldt Mill, which is located not far from the fire area.

Firefighters' American flag is planted to show their progress as they move toward the center of the fire area from the fire line in their mopping up operation to extinguish remaining hot spots. (Photo © and courtesy Joe Derocha)

"They are making progress, but ground fire takes a lot of effort to put out and 80 acres is a large area," said Celeste Chingwa, DNR Upper Peninsula fire protection manager in Marquette. "This fire may burn in fuel pockets below the surface if conditions don’t change, so it will need constant monitoring."

At 4:27 p.m. Friday, July 31, the DNR released these details on the "County Road 601" wildfire in Humboldt Township:

GPS measurements determined the fire burned a total of approximately 80 acres with no further growth expected. A soil barrier has been created nearly all the way around the fire perimeter using DNR fire equipment. Low ground conditions prevent the remaining line from being constructed and a foam and water barrier is being used.

Fire crews work on the edge of the fire Thursday. The foliage shows the green and burned area dividing line.

It was expected that mop-up would be complete within 25 feet of the line by the end of Friday. At the time of this update, active burning persisted on the interior portions of the fire, but there were no spreading flames.

Resources will continue mop-up operations for the foreseeable future. Wisconsin firefighting resources have arrived and are assisting with suppression tasks.

The fire broke out at about 1 p.m. Thursday, July 30, in an area that had been logged last winter. On Friday afternoon, DNR officials reported the following:
  •     No structures are threatened and none have been damaged.
  •     No injuries have been reported.
  •     The fire is about 95 percent contained (100 percent now, on Saturday).
  •     The cause remains undetermined and is under investigation.
Pepin said today the cause has still not been determined and is still under investigation.

Fire first spotted Thursday, July 30

At about 1:05 p.m. Thursday, tower personnel at Sawyer International Airport reported seeing smoke. A short time later, a DNR pilot was able to fly over the scene, which is located about 4 miles northeast of Republic in Humboldt Township.*

At that time, the fire had burned about 10 acres in an area where logging had occurred last winter. Loggers had just begun working over the past day or so to test a newly built road for hauling timber off the site.

"The slash, stumps, debris and stacked piles of logs made for good fuel for the fire, but made it more difficult for firefighters working to build a containment line around the fire," said Pete Glover, incident commander on the fire for the DNR.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources Gwinn Fire Supervisor Pete Glover gets an update on conditions Thursday evening in Humboldt Township.

By around 5 p.m. Thursday, the size of the fire had increased to about 30 acres and fire crews tried to keep the blaze within the footprint of the logging operation. High temperatures and strong winds had helped fuel the fire. Thursday afternoon, the temperature on the fire scene was 76 degrees, with a relative humidity of 36 percent and winds from the west at 16 mph, gusting to 23.

By 7:24 p.m. Thursday, the fire had blackened more acreage and had reached the trees beyond the logged area. Crews from the Humboldt, Champion, Ishpeming and Republic townships volunteer fire departments were also on the scene.

Firefighters from the Champion Township Fire Department pour water on a burning deck of logs.

Those departments, with the exception of Ishpeming Township, returned Friday.

DNR resource protection section manager Paul Kollmeyer called in firefighters and equipment from Wisconsin to help backfill positions for local DNR firefighters who had been called to the blaze. The assistance from Wisconsin was provided as part of the Great Lakes Forest Fire Compact Agreement.

At least 40 firefighters were working on the fire, working in two divisions.

Flames move through wood piles in the fire zone.

Joe Derocha of the Humboldt Township Fire Department -- who was coordinating efforts for Glover between the township fire departments -- said there was "outstanding cooperation" between the DNR and the local firefighting crews.

Derocha said the Lundin Mining Corp. had allowed use of the water supply from the Humboldt Mill to aid firefighters in battling the blaze.

Township firemen dump water into a container to help battle the County Road 601 fire Thursday evening in Humboldt Township. Pictured here from Humboldt Township Fire Dept. are Joe Derocha, right, and Zack Quale, far left; pouring water in center is Champion Fire Chief Chris Pelcola.

Dan Blondeau, Eagle Mine Communications and Media Relations, said, "Local fire departments utilized the Mill's fire hydrant system. We're very grateful for the dedicated emergency response personnel and all their hard work. The wildfire did not impact operations."

Work crews were expected to be taken off the fire around midnight Thursday because of the inherent danger of trying to fight the fire in the dark. The blaze continued to be monitored overnight by firefighters. By Thursday evening, the fire was at 70 acres and 60 percent contained. (Photo © and courtesy Joe Derocha)

On Friday, the DNR reported 30 DNR personnel and three local fire department crews remained on the scene after a morning briefing in Ishpeming Township.

Firefighters continue work to contain wildfire Friday, July 31

Michigan Department of Natural Resources Gwinn Fire Supervisor Pete Glover briefs firefighters Friday morning at the DNR office in Ishpeming Township. Crews returned to the fire line Friday.

Glover said the fire was estimated at 80 acres, after better visibility over the fire and mapping the previous day helped delineate the extent of the burned area.

"The fire held within the containment lines last night," Glover said on Friday. "It didn’t move."

Once the fire had hit a mix of hardwoods and, in another area nearby, a spruce and balsam stand, the fire began to slow its spread, Glover explained. Crews then began to gain a better handle on containing the blaze.

"The changing fuel type, that’s what slowed it down the most," Glover noted.

This DNR photo shows the swampy edge of the fire where the blaze meets the woodlands.

The fire was 95 percent contained Friday morning, with the remaining area where fire line needs to be built situated in low ground, with swamp.

Glover said crews would be working Friday to finish containing the fire and then begin the long process of mopping up (using foam to put out individual hot spots), which -- depending on the weather -- is expected to last for several days.

"We’re going to be working from the perimeter in toward the center of the fire," Glover said on Friday. "Our goal for today is to have 25 feet in from the outer edge 100 percent mopped up."

The remains of a pile of logs that burned overnight are visible here Friday.

David Holli of Holli Forest Products in Ishpeming, Michigan, owned the logs. He estimated the loss of timber was $150,000 at a minimum. He expected to have a better calculation of the loss later Friday.

 The inside of a fallen tree continues to burn. (Photo © and courtesy Joe Derocha)

"Elevated fire danger is expected to continue until significant rain occurs." Kollmeyer said on Friday. "The best chance of rain is 50 percent Sunday and Monday."

However, the weather forecast now may be less than ideal for putting out the fire.

"What they're hoping for is a modest rainfall over a period of days, but that's not in the forecast now," Pepin added on Saturday afternoon.

Efforts to mop up the fire are expected to continue for several days, depending on the weather.

The fire area is situated about 4 miles northeast of Republic, south of Marquette County Road 601 and southwest of the Black River.

DNR officials continue to urge extreme caution with fire as weather is expected to remain conducive to spreading wildfires over the next few days. For safety and prevention tips, visit the DNR website.

MORE PHOTOS ... (from Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015)

A track cut through the burned-over area and greenery shows a portion of the fire line perimeter firefighters built to contain the 80-acre blaze. (Photos courtesy Michigan DNR unless otherwise indicated.)

Michigan Department of Natural Resources fire crew member Jacob Burton of Ishpeming works with a Pulaski fire tool to put out a hot spot on the fire.
Humboldt Township Fire Department crewman Joe Derocha opens a hydrant to fill his fire truck at the Humboldt Mill, which has been supplying fire crews with water. 

As a tradition, DNR firefighters in some units raise an American flag once a fire is 100-percent contained. This flag was flying over the "County Road 601" wildfire Saturday evening. 

Eagle mine purchases and delivers cases of Gatorade and provides lunches for firefighters. (Photo © and courtesy Joe Derocha)

Wisconsin DNR sent two trucks and a crew for each truck plus a dozer crew on Friday. (Photo © and courtesy Joe Derocha)

Firefighters take a break at the end of the day Saturday, Aug. 1, as they get ready for a wrap-up meeting within the fire area.

* Click here for a video showing aerial footage of the fire (taken Thursday, July 30).

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