Clark Lake is blessed with an abundance of trees.  They provide shade in the summer, color in the fall, and showcase the lake as only nature can.  A journey through the Spirit Trail’s Magic Forest, or watching trees along the shoreline change color, tells the story.
Fall is here, and trees will shed their leaves.  Have you wondered how many leaves fall at Clark Lake?   The number must approach infinity, and getting rid of them can be a challenge.  Burning them is permitted in Columbia Township (the exception being Brooklyn, which falls under the federal Clean Air Act). 

Photo: Andy Scott

Where burning is allowed, including Clark Lake, a permit is required.  Fire Chief Scott Cota has made it easy via the phone.  Call the Fire Department at (517) 592-8654.  During business hours, you’ll talk to a live person who will give you the permit.  During off-hours, or if a person is not available during business hours, you’ll get a voicemail describing how to proceed.  That includes leaving a message with your last name, address where the burning will take place, your phone number, and the date.

Rules have been developed to protect life and property.  What are they?

  • You need a permit for any outside burning.  That includes everything from burning leaves to a fire pit or campfire.  The only exception are grills.
  • Hours for burning are sunrise to sunset.
  • The fire must be extinguished by nightfall with no smoldering remains. 
  • The fire must be 15 feet from the property line or any structure. 
  • Materials to burn are limited to leaves, yard waste, and brush, but not building material.
  • Have water available.  Chief Cota says that could be a five gallon bucket or garden hose.  
  • Weather conditions must be favorable.  Wind must be less than 8 mph, and conditions must not be too dry.  On this point, the Fire Department will tell you if conditions are too dry either by the staff member who answers the phone or the voicemail message.  

What happens if you get a burning permit, start the fire, and a neighbor complains?  It’s likely the Fire Department will ask you to put the fire out.  Chief Cota comments, “sometimes neighbors have disagreements, and report each other.  If this happens repeatedly, we deny burning permits for all in that immediate area.  Usually, neighbors settle disputes and we again issue burning permits.   

Out of control fires can be devastating to life and property.  In recent memory, blazes completely destroyed two dwellings at Clark Lake.  In both cases, occupants were lucky to get out unharmed.  Fire can spread incredibly quickly or remain “dormant” and virtually undetected.  A neighbor to one of the houses destroyed experienced this.  Long after the blaze was extinguished, the fire department discovered smoldering material in the attic.  Crawling into the tight spaces, they put it out. 

Similar instances happen outside.  Chief Cota says he has illustrated this in teaching sessions.  “You can put out the flames of a small fire and believe it offers no further threat.  But many people miss what’s happening below where coals are still hot.  A fire like that can reignite when conditions are right.  Wind can blow away the top layer, start flames again, and spread it.”   The chief recommends creating a “campfire soup.”  After a fire burns down to the coals, pouring 5 gallons of water on it may not be enough.  Instead, “dig down and you’ll find hot embers.  Pour on water and stir.”  

The chief describes one case where fire actually traveled underground.  Burning organic material just under the surface became an underground trail, extending the original blaze well beyond its initial borders.  

The deceptive nature of fire surprised one Clark Laker. A resident had obtained a burn permit.  After burning brush in a field, he believed the fire was out.  Three weeks later, the fire came back to life.  What’s more surprising, it had snowed between when the fire appeared to be out, and when it reignited.  The flames damaged a boat and scorched additional landscape.  Fortunately, the fire department was able to stop it before it caused more damage.    

Photo: Andy Scott