Conservation officials warn of fire risk, recommend clearing debris near homes

Monday, November 8, 2010

The risk of wildfire is currently high in Southeast Missouri, according to Missouri Department of Conservation foresters.

According to Joe Garvey, forestry supervisor for the department's Southeast Region, fire dangers are up due to dry weather throughout October, low humidity and a plentiful fire fuel supply such as drying grasses, leaves and storm debris that remains in wooded areas throughout southern Missouri.

Garvey urged residents and campers to refrain from burning leaves and trash outdoors and to report any suspicious activity that might be connected with arson fires.

"Our fire danger level is in the high to very high range," Garvey said.

Dry, dead leaves on the forest floor, dormant grasses and dead weeds are plentiful during an ordinary fall season, and the downed trees that remain in many wooded areas from the massive May 2008 storm only add to the risk. Foresters are concerned because low moisture in autumn can lead to major wildfires in rural areas where firefighting crews have a broad countryside to protect and sometimes must battle blazes in hard-to-reach locations.

Garvey said landowners should ensure they have "defensible space" designated on their property as they clear away stray limbs and downed trees. Defensible space is an area around a structure where fuels and vegetation are treated, cleared or reduced in order to slow the spread of a wildfire toward the building. According to the Department of Conservation and the state fire marshal, a home is more likely to withstand a wildfire if grass, brush, trees and other fuels are managed to reduce the intensity of a fire.

"The concern is if any downed tree limbs or other brush isn't cleared away, a wild fire could spread easily into someone's yard and the debris could keep firefighters from doing their jobs," Garvey said.

The state fire marshal recommends 30 feet of defensible space should be incorporated around a home as a barrier to fire and as a defensible area for firefighters to maneuver in. Within the defensible space a grass lawn is recommended, along with noncombustible surfaces such as stone, concrete or brick for patios and decks.

In current conditions, Garvey said, it's best to hold off on burning items such as household trash. According to the department, 60 percent of Missouri's wildfires are accidentally caused by careless trash burning.

"You might think you've watched the fire go completely out, but when you walk away an ember could blow out, travel on the wind and lead to a lot of damage," Garvey said, and that is why a person should never leave a fire unattended until the last coal is out. A single spark can destroy thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and pastures, property, and endanger human lives, he said.

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