The Rice Lake wildfire that began Monday afternoon continues to rage as crews work to contain it. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reported the fire was 60 percent contained late this morning
The blaze began around noon on Houghton County land near a commercial blueberry farm in the Rice Lake area before spreading to the northeast. The cause of the fire is believed to be lightning according to officials from the DNR.
One firefighter was injured and taken to Portage Health System. Mike Lahti, chairman of the Houghton County Board of Commissioners, declared a state of emergency late Monday night, by which point the blaze had consumed an estimated 500 acres.
“… It became clear that despite our efforts this fire was not under control,” Lahti wrote in a statement. “It was also clear that the 14 responding volunteer fire agencies and human service providers had exhausted their resources as they battled the blaze throughout the day. The potential for a catastrophic event is still very possible … ”
At about 8 p.m. Monday night, the 14 departments had 250 firemen on the scene, along with representatives from six law enforcement agencies.
Additional help would be possible if the fire escalated on Tuesday, said Dan Sarazin, chief of the Bootjack Fire Department. Air tankers from Ontario, Canada, are on standby for use today if the situation escalates.
“We’ll evaluate it through the night and see what it’s like in the morning,” he said. “If the wind kicks up tonight, it could be a lot bigger.”
With many departments at the fire, Ahmeek’s department was left to cover Keweenaw County, while Calumet Township and Boston were covering the north end of Houghton County.
“Fire resources are really being stretched to the limits right now,” Sarazin said.
About 100 people on the Gay-Lake Linden, Rice Lake and Big Traverse Bay roads had been evacuated by Monday night. Residents were evacuated to the Lake Linden-Hubbell Elementary School, where relatives picked them up.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Hubbell firefighters Dave Gariepy, Matt York and Pete Matson talk by their truck. Two hundred-fifty firefighters from 14 local departments are battling the blaze which was about 500 acres in size.