Missouri’s state fire marshal says the danger of wildfire is extremely high all over Missouri, on account of an incredibly dry October. What the fire marshal didn’t mention is the enormous amount of woody fuel on the ground right now.
Ice storms in 2007 and 2008 wrecked tens of thousands of acres of forest statewide. Tornadoes and violent straight-line winds dumped more branches, limbs and trunks on the ground, magnifying this already serious problem. Foresters estimate the amount of downed woody fuel across much of southern Missouri is 10 times greater than normal.
Missouri’s fire season normally is spring, but this year the greatest fire danger is coming in autumn. That, coincidentally, is when people are most likely to be outdoors burning leaves and other debris. The threat this poses to property and human life is extremely serious. If at all possible, delay burning debris until a significant rain reduces the fire danger. At the moment, the weather forecast shows little chance of rain for the next 10 days. If you must burn debris, be sure to clear leaves and other burnable material from a strip of at least 10 feet around the planned fire. Don’t burn during windy conditions, and have a garden hose and other firefighting tools on hand before striking a match.
Hunters should be extra cautious this fall, too. A campfire is an indispensable part of deer camps. Most hunters are steeped in the fire discipline of Smoky Bear and Boy/Girl Scouting. Remember those rules when you head out to deer camp later this month. Clear a generous zone around your fire ring. Reduce the size of your fire under windy conditions. Keep water close by in case wind carries embers into surrounding woods. Extinguish campfires completely before turning in each night and before leaving camp in the morning.
Natural-cover fires threaten people’s lives as well as their livelihoods. A significant number of these fires are maliciously set by vandals. Citizens can stop that by reporting arsonists through the toll-free Operation Forest Arson hotline: 1-800-392-1111.
To help stop the spread of devastating insect pests that can hide in firewood, get your firewood from a local source where you camp and burn it all where you get it.