With fire contained, authorities plan to restore burned landscape
9/16/2007, 9:44 a.m. EDT
By JOHN FLESHER
The Associated Press
(AP) — The Sleeper Lake Fire was still raging in the Upper Peninsula when an inspector noticed little green sprouts poking above the blackened earth — a sign of nature's resilience.
Now people are lending a hand. Michigan's third-largest fire since the 19th century is nearly extinguished, allowing state biologists and conservationists to lay the groundwork for restoring 18,185 damaged acres of forests and wetlands.
"I don't think there's going to be any long-term detrimental effects," said Les Homan, forest unit manager with the Department of Natural Resources office in Newberry.
Authorities dismantled the last firefighting crews over Labor Day weekend, with the fire reduced to smoldering pockets in underground peat bogs. Costs, although still being tallied, are estimated at more than $6 million, mostly for wages and the use of aerial water tankers.
It may take winter's snows to snuff out the final embers, although recent rainfall has helped considerably. An aerial search early this week turned up just one "hot spot" — and it got an inch of rain the next day, Homan said.
"We are not declaring the fire out yet," he said in a recent phone interview. "We're waiting to see what happens when we get two or three sunny, windy days in a row."
Ignited on Aug. 2 by a lightning strike, the fire swept across 28 square miles, mostly within the Lake Superior State Forest in Luce County, about 55 miles west of Sault Ste. Marie. There were no major injuries.
The landscape is a patchwork of marshy wetlands, sandy ridges lined with red and white pines, and better developed soils that host stands of maple.
It's sparsely populated, yet dotted with seasonal cottages. Several structures were gutted at a family's hunting camp, but no other dwellings were damaged. That's a testament to the skill and tenacity of 200-plus firefighters who labored on the front lines and dumped water from planes and helicopters, Homan said.
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