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Prescription: Fire

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

periodic prescribed burns are continued. The frequency of burns will vary by plant community from every few years to only once in 10-20 years, but repeat burns will be necessary to maintain the benefits of using prescribed fire.

If you plan to use prescribed fire:

  • Contact the Conservation Department for information and training.
  • Prepare a burn plan.
  • Stick to your burn plan - call it off if anything isn't right.
  • Get weather information and let the Conservation Department forester and rural fire department know when you burn.
  • Be committed to using prescribed fire periodically.

Wildfires in Missouri and in the West

The massive wildfires of the Western lands in 1996 received considerable television and press coverage. The wildfires in Missouri pale by comparison for intensity and size, but can still be destructive. Western fires are in more arid settings and burn into the crowns of the large pines, creating flames over 100 feet off the ground.

Missouri fires typically burn in the forest litter with flames 2 to 5 feet high. Grassland fires and burning cedar trees can create 15- to 20- foot flames, but most grass fires have flames of 2 to 3 feet. These fires can kill and they can burn houses and cover roadways with dense smoke. Fortunately the Conservation Department has never had a fatality among its firefighters from the direct effects of a wildfire.

Shaping the Environment

In western states with dry climates, lightning often starts wildfires, but that's rare in Missouri. Our state's high humidity means most fires, including almost every fire in forested areas, are started by people.

People have been here using fire at least since the ice ages ended about 10,000 years ago. Some fires no doubt escaped accidentally. But Indian cultures predating European settlement told how fire was used extensively to shape the human environment.

Native peoples probably set fire for several reasons: to reduce the fuel, and thereby the chance of accidental or hostile burning; to clear forest underbrush for easier travel and hunting; or to generate new green growth attractive to wildlife.

European settlers recorded their own experiences with fire and accounts told them by the natives. Other records were written by fire itself in the rings of long-lived trees.

Fire often scars trees it does not kill. By examining fire scars in old trees, timbers and even wood fragments, scientists can say that Missouri forests have been burning for thousands of years. And if forests burned, prairies almost certainly did.

Further evidence for

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