Fire still rages on U.P. island

FAYETTE– The return of dry weather to the northern Great Lakes has again increased activity of a wildfire that threatens a historic lighthouse on a small Lake Michigan island.

First reported in late June, the Poverty Island Fire consumed another 20 acres of forest on the 200-acre island since late last week, according to Jeremy Bennett, the incident commander for 16 federal firefighters that started work today to stop the fire’s progress toward the lighthouse. Believed to have started by lightning, the fire has now burned about 50 acres.

According to Bennett, from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, also led a late July effort by firefighters to stop the fire with fire by using a burnout, a technique that exhausts a fire by burning-off forest fuels that the fire needs to keep burning. Rain and humidity at the time prevented ignition of that burnout.

This week, Bennett said firefighters will again attempt to burn out around the lighthouse to eliminate trees and forest debris that could spread fire to the brick and wood structure.

Bennett said a smoke column rising from the island this week could be visible from the Upper Peninsula, northwest Lower Michigan and northeast Wisconsin. Once the burnout is completed, smoke and occasional torching of unburned timber will occur until winter precipitation and temperatures extinguish the fire. The lighthouse is no longer in use and is under the care of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Poverty Island is uninhabited and part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, between the Garden Peninsula of Michigan and the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin.

When they left in July, firefighters left a brushed-out fireline and a hose-and-sprinkler system to protect the lighthouse until weather conditions would allow their return to do a burnout. This system will also protect the structure during this week’s burnout.

A 26-foot search-and-rescue boat from the National Park Service in Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands is being used to ferry firefighters to the island from Fayette State Park on the Garden Peninsula. The boat will also be used to ignite the burnout using flares launched into the island’s interior.

Foot travel on Poverty Island is treacherous under any circumstances, Bennett said, and he advised that the public not visit the island until winter cools hot coals left by the fire in crevices and ash-filled stump holes. The danger and difficulty of working around timber blowdown and hidden crevices and cliffs are the main reason why firefighters are burning out around the lighthouse instead of using other methods of stopping the fire.