The clear, dry, low-humidity days that make us want to get out and bask in spring (and get a few outdoor cleanup chores underway!) are the same ones that keep Michigan’s firefighters on red alert. Most Michigan wildfires take place in April and early May, before new vegetation has sprouted and what’s left after winter is dead, dry and highly combustible. Adding to the fire-friendly environment are spring’s winds, low humidity and the fact that there is little green, moist foliage to serve as a barrier for a moving wildfire.

Smokey calls it like he sees it: people cause most forest fires, about 98 percent of them in Michigan. And because one-third of all Michigan wildfires are caused by people burning debris (grass, leaves, brush and trash), the number of wildfires and losses can be reduced by using common-sense precautions. Take even small backyard fires seriously. Here are some tips:

  • Always use a lid over a burn barrel. The lid helps reduce the chance of firebrand—floating embers—escaping the barrel and starting a wildfire, but you will need to drill small holes in the lid to provide oxygen to the fire so it will burn. Place ventilation holes in the barrel lid and in the sides and bottom of the burn barrel to provide adequate ventilation, but they should not be larger than 3/4 of an inch.
  • Have at the ready a way to extinguish the fire quickly and completely.
  • Stay with a fire—NEVER leave it unattended.
  • A burn permit is required any time the ground is not snow covered. Camping and cooking fires are exempt but still require the same degree of caution as any other outdoor fire.
  • In the Northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula, burn permits are issued online at, or call 866-922-2876.