The potential is extremely high for wildfire caused by careless disposal of a cigarette, machinery or outdoor burning. Drought conditions have made fuels such as grasses and fallen leaves highly combustible, said Mark Nelson, a regional forestry supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). People are urged to be extra cautious about any activities that could start a fire.
“Things are not just dry, they are super dry,” Nelson said. “The drought is deepening. We have a 90 percent chance of any ember lighting a wildfire.”
If a brush hog or mower strikes a rock in a pasture and causes sparks off the steel blades, for instance, that could be enough to start a wildfire. Fire departments in the Kansas City region have already responded to several grass fires on highway right of ways that were likely caused by a motorist tossing out a lit cigarette, he said. Even grass and weeds that look green can burn in the current dry conditions.
An increase in wind speeds forecast for this week could heighten the potential for a fire to burn out of control, Nelson said.
Wildfires can destroy homes, farms building and wildlife habitat. Fighting fires in the current extreme conditions are also dangerous for firefighting crews.
MDC provides assistance to local fire departments in rural areas. That includes equipment and MDC employees trained to battle wildfires. Those crews are on alert and ready to respond due to current conditions.
Wildfire danger is high throughout northern and southwest Missouri with two pockets of very high fire danger, according to a forecast issued on Sunday by the U.S. Forest Service, http://www.fs.fed.us/land/wfas/fd_class.png.
Property owners should make sure lanes and roads are clear for access by fire trucks as a precaution against a blaze occurring in their neighborhood, Nelson said. It’s important to keep a defensible area against wildfire around buildings. For instance, don’t store combustible materials such as firewood next to a house.
Also, MDC has issued a FIRE BAN on all conservation areas. The fire ban includes prohibiting campfires and other open fires. The fire ban does permit the use of contained camp stoves and charcoal cooking fires in concrete or metal fire rings. The use of wood in cooking fires is prohibited under the fire ban.
Any rain will help, Nelson said. But significant rainfall is needed to replenish soil moisture and reduce fire dangers.
People should call 911 at the first sign of any fire getting out of control, and they should call Operation Forest Arson at (800) 392-1111 if they see or suspect possible arson. Callers will remain anonymous and rewards are possible.