Nine Years Later

In May of 2012 one of the largest forest fires ever in Michigan began to burn. It lasted about three weeks, burning approximately 21,000 acres between Newberry and Paradise. I visited the area as soon as the DNR opened it again. This began a photographic and observational journey that has lasted for nine years so far. The first year I visited and photographed the area a couple of times and then for every year for the next four years. Since many photos and areas seemed to look the same, I decided to do the next intense photo documenting visit at ten years from the fire which would be next year. I have however visited some of the areas every year as you might say my interest may almost be an obsession. On a recent trip to the area, I took time to visit a portion of the area that I affectionately refer to as the “burn area.”

Except for black burn marks on some of the standing pine trees, you might not know the area had burned. The ground vegetation covers the whole area nicely and trees have come back. Birches, oaks and maples have resprouted from stumps and pines, especially Jack pine has reseeded in previously forested areas. The areas that had recently been logged prior to the fire have few trees returning. Jack pine seed released as a result of the intense heat are now young trees reaching ten feet or more in height. In some cases, the Jack pines that were taller and survived the fire, now tower over the younger ones growing in their shadows. In some areas the only reminder of the fire is the blackened ghosts of dead trees still standing.


I visited Barclay Lake, where the forest had burned all the way around it. The bog edge to the lake is a beautiful floating mat of sphagnum moss, leatherleaf and other bog plants including the Grass-pink Orchid. Also, in the nearby woods the forest floor is covered with blueberries, wintergreen, and bracken ferns growing form the charred remains of pine branches.

We often here of the devastation of wild fires as the media likes to focus on what was lost but never seems to come back in five years to see the regeneration. Yes, it seems like all is lost after one of these events, but fire/death brings new vibrant life to the northern forest ecosystem. These 21,000 acres are alive and thriving as plants recover and wildlife habitat is created or enhanced.

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