Red Flag Fire Danger today!

Forest Fire - Sleeping Bear Dunes by Todd

Forest Fire – Sleeping Bear Dunes by Todd

mLive shares that the northern half of Lower Michigan has a red flag fire warning today, meaning that the warm, dry, windy conditions allow wildfires to not only start easily, but also spread quickly. Much of the lower peninsula is dry as well so PLEASE careful with fire today!!

Todd took this back in 2018 on a Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore trail. He shares, “The scene was surreal as the flames wound their way through the forest. It was disturbing and beautiful at the same time. No one else was around to experience it.”

I bet!! See more in his Sleeping Bear Dunes gallery on Flickr.

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The fire that’s closest kept

The Fire that's closest kept by Fire Fighter's Wife

The fire that’s closest kept by Fire Fighter’s Wife

“Fire that’s closest kept burns most of all.”
-William Shakespeare

Beth shared this photo from NYE 2021, and I think it’s a great reminder for all of us to keep that fire burning! See more in her 365: the 2022 Edition gallery on Flickr. 

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October 8, 1871: The Demon in the Gale

Tinder by Kevin Ryan

Tinder by Kevin Ryan

A sky of flame, of smoke a heavenful, the earth a mass of burning coals, the mighty trees, all works of man between and living things trembling as a child before a demon in the gale. To those who have seen, the picture needs no painting.”
-a history of Sanilac County

The Chicago Fire of 1871 which started on October 8th gets (justifiably) a great deal of attention, but something that is not as well known is the fact that it was only one of a number of major fires across the Midwest that burned millions of acres in October of 1871 and caused over 1200 deaths. Michigan was dealt grievous blows from “The Fiery Fiend” as fires swept across the state, wiping out or endangering entire cities, towns and villages including Holland, Manistee, Grand Rapids, South Haven and Port Huron doing millions of dollars worth of property damage and killing hundreds.

It’s probably impossible for us to fathom what the threat of fire was like in those days. This brief excerpt from a terrifying account account of the burning of Manistee might give a glimmer:

…A bright light came up out of the south, directly in rear of the town, and the fierce gale bearing it on directly toward the doomed city. Those who resided in that part of town, including the writer, rushed to the new scene of danger, the full extent of which few comprehended. The fire had originated two miles south of the city, on the lake shore. It first came upon the farm of L.G. Smith, Esq., which it devoured. Eighty rods north the extensive farm and dairy of E.W. Secor shared the same fate, with all his barns and forage. Another quarter of a mile, and the large farm buildings of Mayor R.G. Peters were quickly annihilated. Here the column of fire divided, the left hand branch keeping to the lake shore hills, and coming in at the mouth; the other taking a northeasterly course and coming in directly south of the town, as before described. Here a small band of determined men, fighting with the energy of despair to protect their homes, kept it at bay till past midnight. But all was vain – at 12:30 o’clock the gale became a tornado, hurling great clouds of sparks cinders, burning bark and rotten wood through the air in A Terrific, Fiery Storm.

Every man now fled to his own house. The fire now came roaring through the dead hemlocks south of the blocks included between Maple and Oak Streets, in the Second Ward. The flames leaped to the summits of the great hemlocks, seventy, eighty or ninety feet high, and threw out great flags of fire against the lurid heavens. The scene was grand and terrible beyond description. To us, whose homes and dear ones and all were in the track of the fire, it was heart-rending.

Read more of these amazing journal style entries from the history of Manistee County. The cause of these fires has been given as a hot dry summer, too many leavings from timbering operations and of course Mrs. O’Leary’s firebug of a cow. There is an interesting theory, however, that the root cause was the earth passing through the tail of a comet. You can read all about it at The Comet and the Chicago Fire where it’s noted that even a steamship passing the Manitou Islands in Lake Michigan noted that they too were on fire.

Kevin took this back in 2009 at a firefighter training in Grand Haven. See more in his Other gallery on Flickr.

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Where there’s fire, there’s smoke

Smoke from Western Wildfires over Michigan by CMU Public Radio

Smoke from Western Wildfires over Michigan by CMU Public Radio

Although Michigan is not currently on fire, we’re dealing with the consequences of yet another crazy fire season in the West. Central Michigan University Public Radio shares that smoke from wildfires in Canada and the American West is starting to affect air quality in Michigan:

The smoke carries tiny particles of ash and soot called PM 2.5 — flecks of particulate matter that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter, or about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.

Stephanie Hengesbach, a meteorologist with the state’s air quality division, said those particles are especially dangerous for people with heart or lung problems.

“Be aware of it,” she advised. “Levels are higher than typical this time of year. When you breathe, it can become trapped into your lungs. That’s why it’s so important that people that have lung or breathing issues really be aware.”

More from CMU Public Radio.

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Hot Air Balloon Glow

Hot Air Balloon Glow

Hot Air Balloon Glow, photo by diane charvat

Diane took this last weekend at the Grand Rapids Balloon Festival (which I hadn’t heard of).

Check it out bigger and see more in her Hot Air Balloons slideshow.

More balloons on Michigan in Pictures.


The Onaway Rim Fire and the biggest little town in northern Michigan


nightfall, photo by Marty Hogan

The Onaway Historical Museum has an article on the Lobdell Fire that begins:

On the morning of Thursday, January 14, 1926 fire broke out in the company’s sanding machine and spread spontaneously through the blowers to different parts of the room.

In the few hours that followed, Onaway’s main means of livelihood went up in smoke and although the city still exists, it has never reached the proportion it was on that historical day. With the presence of the American Wood Rim Co. and its sister company, the Lobdell Emerey Manufacturing Co., Onaway experienced tremendous growth in its early year. The big industry, along with the profitable timber business made Onaway the biggest little town in northern Michigan.

According to one report, Onaway had two newspapers, three lawyers, four doctors, three large hotels, 17 saloons, nine churches, two bakeries, a fairgrounds, racetrack and an opera house in the pre-fire days. The figure varies, but Onaway’s population was approximately 4,000 and the two huge industries employed anywhere from 1200 to 1500 persons.

The Lobdell Emery Manufacturing co. was involved in lumbering, sawmill operations and the making of such products as dowels, broom handles, and coat hanger stock. The American Wood Rim Co., was the world’s largest and finest producer of automobile steering wheels and bicycle rims. For a number of years the company made all the steering wheels with either malleable iron or aluminum spiders. The aluminum spiders were all molded and finished in the plant while the malleable iron castings were purchased from outside sources.

During its last few years in Onaway, the American Wood Rim Co. introduced the all-wood steering wheel with only the hub made of steel. Some of the automobile rims were made of maple or beech, but the better ones were of black walnut with a black walnut or mahogany finish. The bicycle rims were made of hard rock maple or beech. All the wood used in manufacturing the wheels and rims was from the surrounding forests owned by Lobdell-Emery.

Read on for more and here’s a map to Onaway.

View Marty’s photo background big and see more in his September 2012 Road Trip slideshow.

If you like this sort of thing, Michigan in Pictures has lots more of Marty’s up north historical explorations!

The Great Thumb Fire and the Birth of the Red Cross

Eaton County Courthouse 089.jpg

Eaton County Courthouse, photo by joshames

In 1871, the Thumb area of Michigan was ravaged by The Great Michigan Fire, part of a series of fires across the Midwest that included the Chicago Fire.  The Michigan DNR’s History & Ecology of Fire in Michigan explains that 10 years later on September 5, 1881, another devastating fire rolled through the Thumb area.

…the fire of September 1881, commonly known as the Thumb fire, was more severe and did more damage since settlers had begun pouring into the region and logging had gotten underway. As a result, more people were rendered homeless and the loss was greater. It is estimated that this fire burned well over one million acres, cost 282 lives, and did more than $2,250,000 worth of damage. ($55,834,321 adjusted for inflation)

Like the 1871 fire, the fire of 1881 came at the end of an extremely severe drought and was the result of hundreds of land-clearing fires whipped into a seething cauldron of flame by high winds. It was worse in the Saginaw Valley and Thumb region where it burned over much of the same territory that had burned ten years before.

In 1881 Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross. The organization’s first meeting had taken place in Washington DC  at the home of Sen. Omar D. Conger of Michigan. Their first official disaster relief operation was the response to the Thumb Fire, and the Red Cross provided money, clothes and household items to victims of the fire.

Check Josh’s photo out bigger and see more in his slideshow.