forester, once declared impossible: curtailing the destruction of fires past. Each year wildfires still burn about 44,000 acres in the state, however that is down from the early years of fire control in the state when wildfires burned about 68,000 acres annually.
As in all parts of the U.S., wildfires in Missouri sometimes destroy dwellings, outbuildings and equipment. As a result, educational programs have been developed to couch homeowners on how to protect their property. One of these is an interagency effort called Firewise. Protection of property is possible with a little initial work, which primarily involves the trimming and removal of both live and dead vegetation near the home and other buildings. This cleanup work is performed in the home ignition zone, an area of about 30–50 feet around a structure. Then, with some periodic maintenance to sustain this cleared space, property improvements are protected from almost all instances of wildfire in Missouri. For more information on protecting your home from wildfire, visit the Firewise website at www.firewise.org or talk with your local Department forestry office.
In addition to the loss of developed property and equipment from wildfire, we can lose the value of commercial-grade timber through scarring and subsequent disease of trees. We can also lose soil cover and items such as fence posts and hay bales. We spend large amounts of tax money training and equipping our firefighters to get in harm’s way and suppress these fires.
Missouri’s wildfire problem is unlike that in the western U.S., where wildfire is usually a result of dry lightning storms. Wildfires in Missouri are nearly all human caused and, therefore, preventable. Most are caused by burning debris, household trash and yard waste and farm clean-up fires. A few are due to carelessness with equipment or campfires, and some are from ill-planned burns by landowners. We still experience a significant number of wildfires that are the result of arson. In some parts of the state, arson accounts for more than half of the acres burned. Arson sets and escaped fires generally have one thing in common: they occur when the weather is dry, fuel is dry and winds are high. The result is wildfires with a maximum destructive potential. This potential is what many people have come to expect from any and all fires they see.
As we have learned more about the natural processes of the resources we manage, we