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Officials warn of 'very high to extreme' fire risk over Memorial Day weekend

Abnormally dry conditions in May, officials say, have helped lead to dangerous conditions for potential fires to occur.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As many in Michigan are set to to hit campgrounds and backyard parties throughout the state this Memorial Day, officials have begun warning of a high risk for fires this weekend due to dry conditions.

The National Weather Service took to Twitter on May 28 to describe it as the "driest May at Grand Rapids since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s."

"Right now, we're actually at a very high to extreme risks of severe fire conditions," said Paul Rogers with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"We did have a really wet fall and a little bit of a wet cool spring, but areas like our big pine component areas around Grayling have not seen rain for over 20 days," Rogers said. "And so, the surface fuels - the leaves, the grasses, material from last year — is all readily accessible for burning."

Working in the DNR's Forest Resources Division, Rogers said the risk is so great that the DNR will not be issuing any debris burn permits in counties under their jurisdiction.

However, he said there are ways that those who are burning smaller, controlled campfires can be safe.

"If you want to have a campfire, that's great," Rogers said. "But have it in a ring and make sure you have a water source nearby. This time of year, people haven't started watering their lawns yet."

"So, just make sure you're all set ahead of time - a bucket of water hose, a yard rake something like that — because I really need to have that right nearby," Rogers said.

Even with those measures, Rogers said it's important for those celebrating this weekend to take the risk seriously.

"Just be extremely careful when you're out," Rogers said. "Even mowing the lawn, a spark off a chainsaw when he hits a rock — any of that sort of material can start a fire, so just be extremely careful. Obviously, absolutely enjoy the great outdoors. If you want to rake your yard, great. You want to have it in a pile, but just please don't burn it until we do get some rain."

Those in southern Michigan counties in which the DNR does not issue burn permits, Rogers said, would need to contact their local fire departments and authorities to inquire as to whether burn permits are being issued.

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