Missouri wild fires setting record pace

Friday, July 27, 2012
Mark Twain National Forest Firefighter Wallace Dillon, 6' 5" tall, at Jun 28, 2012 a wildfire that jumped a highway. No one was hurt in the blaze. Wildfires of this size are uncommon in Missouri summers. US Forest Service photo by Shawn Maijala.

Summer 2012 is setting a record pace for Missouri wildfires, and the forecast is for more through fall.

Mark Twain National Forest wild land firefighters responded to more than 50 wildfires in June and July, that burned more than 4,000 acres of public and private lands.

Mark Twain National Forest's 20-year annual average is 174 wildfires, burning about 5,145 acres annually.

To date, Mark Twain National Forest has had 117 fires with more than 6,000 acres burned.

"The last time conditions were like this in Missouri was in 1980, and before that in the early 1950s," said Mark Twain National Forest's Fire Management Officer Jody Eberly. "It doesn't take much to get a fire going in these extreme weather conditions. Please be careful with your cigarettes, fireworks, tools, and any other devise that might spark a fire."

Forecasts for the rest of summer 2012 call for continued record high temperatures and dry conditions.

"We appreciate the help of our partners and other agency cooperators," Eberly said. "It's going to take working together to get through this wildfire season safely."

Cooperators include, among others: AmeriCorps, Ozark National Scenic Riverway, Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Governor's Office, Missouri State Fire Marshall's Office, State Emergency Management Agency, Missouri Department of Transportation, Missouri Highway Patrol, numerous local and county law enforcement, fire departments and local businesses. Firefighters have come from as far away as Alaska and Maine to help Missouri firefighters during this unusual summer fire season.

Summers in Missouri are typically hot and humid with occasional thunderstorms, with only one or two small summer fires.

"So far this year, we've set record temperatures for numerous days, received much less rain than normal, and humidity levels are lower than they usually are," Eberly said.

Eberly said these hot, dry conditions set the stage for very volatile and unusual fire behavior.

In Missouri, wild land firefighters are accustomed to battling fires that burn along the ground, through leaf litter or understory grasses and brush. An occasional hot spot will engulf an entire tree. Rarely does the fire get into the crown of the trees.

"This summer, one hot June night, when fires are typically at their calmest because of the lower temperatures and higher humidity, one wildfire blew up into a running crown fire, traveling swiftly from treetop to treetop," Eberly said.

High summer humidity normally prevents fire from getting started in green vegetation. But this summer, fires have ignited from lightning, from sparks created when a mower blade hits a rock, and from a cigarette thrown out a car window.

USDA's Mark Twain National Forest is the largest public land manager in Missouri with 1.5 million acres in 29 southern and central Missouri counties. The National Forest's goal is to continue to restore Missouri's natural communities and maintaining a healthy, working forest.

For updated info about Mark Twain National Forest go to www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/marktwain or contact your local Mark Twain National Forest office.

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