Frederic Township Fire Department

Defining Moments: The Howes Lake Fire

Our greatest defining moments often stem from ordinary days. This was no different for Fire Chief Douglas Pratt or the men and women of the Frederic Township Fire Department on June 7th, 2011. It was a warm, sunny June day after a thunderstorm, and like any other summer day those who had it off were out enjoying it; visiting family members, preparing to go out boating, or simply enjoying the day away from home. Being a Tuesday many were working outside of the fire department itself and like any other call when the pagers when off, firefighters from Frederic Township dropped everything to answer the call for a report of smoke seen in the area of Howes Lake Rd and M-72. With a column of smoke that towered visibly in the air from miles away, Chief Pratt wasted no time in calling a request for assistance from Grayling and Bear Lake Township Fire Departments.

In the heart pounding race to get to the station and protect their community, responding firefighters were already feeling the effects of adrenaline pouring through there system as pulses quickened, breaths became shorter and blood flooded to their limbs in preparation for the battle to come. As the smoke column grew larger the closer they got every firefighter responding would quickly realize they were in for one hell of a fight. Upon the simultaneous arrival of the units from Frederic Fire and Grayling DNR they found a fire that had staked vicious claim, surrounding itself with Michigan’s most dangerous wooded fuel source and every Wildland Firefighter’s nemesis, the Jack Pine. Blazing its fury at the fire engine from Frederic and Bulldozer from the DNR the fire fought its way to the top of the trees where an endless supply of oxygen and fuel waited there for the taking. Crews fought desperately to contain the monster to no avail and were forced to retreat as the fire reached the top of the tress and began its race to demolish anything and everything it could before its destined destruction.

Joining forces with additional fire units from Frederic Township, Bear Lake, the DNR and Camp Grayling firefighters engaged in their second battle with the beastly fire trying to cut it off from crossing Pheasant Run Rd. Again, their efforts were thwarted by the raging inferno. With Chief Pratt, already having requested more resources from Kalkaska Fire, Coldsprings-Excelsior Fire, Blue Lake Fire, Lovells Fire, and Otsego Lake Fire Departments the gloves were about to come off. Ordering units to reposition once again, Chief Pratt announced on the radio, “We must stop the fire at Chipmunk Trail and Manistee River Rd or there will be no hope for the homes along the Manistee River.” Once again, the firefighters put themselves directly in the path of the fire taking a final stand to protect the residents and their homes in the beasts’ terrible path. The fire had to be stopped once and for all to prevent the loss of the homes along the river that would stand no chance against the huger of the fire.  

Taking their places on the front lines, with residents of the homes already evacuated, firefighters worked quickly and efficiently to pour thousands of gallons of foam on the homes to protect them from the fire’s destructive path. Trees were soaked along the Manistee River and Chipmunk Trail with water creating a well forged fire barrier. With the flames racing towards them the courageous men and women of the Township and Military Fire Departments put their very lives on the line to stand their ground and stop the terrible fire’s reign. In the battle to end all battles the beast was defeated. As the crown fire gasped its last breath firefighters found themselves victorious with trees blackened to their very tops in front of them and proud defiant homes untouched behind. Even the homes caught in the very midst of the fire survived the attack of the flames with only exterior damage to siding. The largest wildland fire in Michigan of the year had been slain, much as a dragon by the blade of a heroic knight in shining armor.

The war had been won; every home had been saved thanks to the selfless acts of the firefighters who answered the call that day. The fire itself only taking two outbuildings and a few camper trailers with it to the grave. With only 5 homes in total with damage to vinyl siding the fire’s only bounty was 817 wooded acres of tress burnt black to their very tops; a monumental reminder to the firefighter’s and residents in that area of the danger they all faced, all thanks to a lightning strike in the previous days storm. Today with their homes still standing the residents and firefighters who faced the terror of that day are back to their ordinary days of working, playing and enjoying life; as the firefighters wait for the next dragon of fire to challenge them to battle… 

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