May 2009 was a chilly month with a mean temperature at 3.1 degrees below average. There was only one really warm summery day; that was May 20. Strong southwesterly winds ahead of low pressure over the Northern Plains brought a hot, dry air mass into Upper Michigan (Image 2 above). The temperature shot up to a record 89 degrees at the National Weather Service (NWS) near Negaunee. Not far to the southwest of the weather station, tragedy struck during the early evening. Forty mile-an-hour wind gusts blew a spark, possibly from a downed power line, into the tinder-dry woods in the Black River Falls area of Ely Township (Image 3). The blaze spread quickly out of control.
This area of Ely Township is an interface between the woods and a suburban community. The homes in the area were right in the path of the firestorm. A total of 33 structures were burned, many of them residences.
The fire scorched a total of 777 acres. Cooler weather and some rain helped firefighters completely extinguish the blaze the next day. The Black River Falls Fire as it became known, while relatively small in acreage burned, was the most destructive wildfire in the U.P.??s recent past.