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Published: Monday, 11/8/2010

Blaze in marsh burns near Erie Township homes

Tree-high flames fueled by tinder-dry marsh reeds and grass threatened Erie Township homes and marinas east of Summit Street in Michigan Sunday night until the fire began burning itself out.

Smoke was visible for miles and after nightfall, orange flames leapt into the low-hanging white smoke, drawing scores of spectators who parked along Summit Street and stood on their vehicle roofs to watch the inferno.

Pat Zaleski, Morin Point fire chief, said the likely cause was spontaneous combustion at a source near the bay.

Crews from five fire departments set up along Algonquin Street and Sterns Road, unable to enter the marsh to reach the fire, which was reported around 1:40 p.m., Susan Morin, dispatcher for the Morin Point Fire Department, said.

Morin Point is a community just north of the Ohio border and consists of homes and fishing camps nestled between Shantee Creek and Halfway Creek.

Morin Point was assisted by approximately 50 firefighters from the Erie Township, Luna Pier, and Whiteford Township fire departments in Michigan and by the Washington Township fire department in Toledo.

Crews from five fire departments were on the scene but could not enter the marsh area. Smoke was visible for miles, and flames leapt into the sky, attracting numerous spectators. Crews from five fire departments were on the scene but could not enter the marsh area. Smoke was visible for miles, and flames leapt into the sky, attracting numerous spectators.
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Dispatcher Morin said the fire had burned itself out in most areas before midnight, allowing some crews to begin preparations to leave. The fire burned until about midnight Sunday, when crews brought it under control and by 12:30 a.m. Monday crews had started to leave the scene.

Most of the fire was in the portion of the marsh between Algonquin and Sterns, part of the Erie State Game Area, although a separate fire burned off the tip of Algonquin, which ends at a boat launch at the mouth of Shantee Creek.

Homes on Algonquin and Sterns were evacuated. Each street had approximately six houses, Erie Township police and fire officials said. No injuries were reported.

Summit Street was closed around 8 p.m. after flames approached the highway and crews were put into positions to keep them from leaping the road.

Dale Gregory, who lives on the west side of Summit north of the fire, said he was visiting his mother in Toledo when he saw the smoke and returned home, worried that his property could be affected.

"It's just me and my dog there," Mr. Gregory said, adding that he's never seen a marsh fire that size in his 12 years living there.

Mr. Gregory said he had two boats docked at Jess's Landing, but was unable to get past fire lines to see if they were damaged.

At Fisherman's Cave, a bait shop and carryout on Algonquin just off Summit Street, owner Kevin Mainzinger was waiting with Clyde Ehmann, owner of the adjacent Bi-State Marine Services, to see whether the fire would reach them. As they did, firefighters entered the store to buy sodas and snacks.

"I'm sure we're well-protected here," Mr. Ehmann said as his dog Rocky ambled by.

Darryl Ansel, an Erie Township police officer, said the homes in the immediate area of the fire were evacuated early on as a precaution.

Most of the fuel for the fire was dry Phragmites reeds, a thick, invasive species that has taken over most of the wetlands at the expense of cattails and other native species.

"This stuff is just like toilet paper burning," he said.

Contact: Jim Sielicki at:

jsielicki@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050



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