Firefighters urge caution

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:36 PM

“We’ve probably had at least five or six already,” Spring Lake Township Deputy Fire Chief Brian Sipe said.

Two of those fires occurred Wednesday afternoon in the Kelly Street area of Spring Lake Township.

After one of the fires, two teenagers sat on the step of a fire truck — one looking crestfallen and the other in tears — while being questioned by a fire officer. Firefighters were still in the woods, making sure the last embers were extinguished.

“We were sitting on a log and we found a lighter,” the boy said. “She lit a leaf. It burned her and she dropped it.”

The boy said he tried to pat out the fire before running for help.

Neighbors arriving home from work were alerted to the fire. They grabbed shovels and rakes, and were able to keep the slow-moving fire from spreading until firefighters arrived and doused the area with water, Sipe said.

An area of about 50 by 50 feet burned, according to Sipe.

That was the second time the Spring Lake Fire Department responded to a wildfire on Wednesday.

Shortly after 1 p.m., they were called to 15079 Kelly St., where a man was burning brush in a fire pit. Sipe said wind picked up some embers and started a wildfire similar in size to the later one.

On Wednesday evening, Wright-Tallmadge firefighters extinguished a series of small brush fires along I-96 that were apparently set off by sparks from the Coopersville and Marne Railway Co. tourist train on an inspection run.

The area has dried fast over the past few weeks, despite the large amount of rain in April, Grand Haven Township Fire Chief Tom Gerencer said. The rain that fell Friday will help green things up, but there’s still a lot of "fuel" out there.

“We’ve been getting a lot of requests from people who want to burn materials that have washed up on Lake Michigan and Pottawattomie Bayou,” Gerencer said. “We’re not letting them.”

Gerencer said he's most concerned about the areas along Lake Michigan, where dead beach grass remains from last year.

“The beach grass has a high fuel load," he said. "It is very volatile."

Spring Lake Township allows burning only on specific days of the year, Sipe said, and only with a permit. The township offered an extra burn day last weekend for residents wanting to get rid of flood debris.

The next scheduled burn day is May 18, but that would only happen if the conditions are right, Sipe said. If it is too dry or windy, burning might not be allowed, he said.

To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.


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