Wildfire danger greater because of ice storms

Wildfire danger greater because of ice storms

9 January 2009

published by www.joplinglobe.com


USA — When Bill Dunn sees all those limbs lying on the ground because of previous winter ice storms, he sees trouble.

“The fuel load is there,” said Dunn, the Carl Junction fire chief. “You can see it. You can see all those broken trees and limbs on the ground. The potential is there.”

The potential he’s talking about is the potential for a serious wildfire as Southwest Missouri enters one of the drier parts of the year.

The Joplin area averages 1.86 inches of rain in January and 2.25 inches of rain in February, well below most other months, and warm days such as Friday’s can dry the forests and grasslands out quickly, turning timber into tinder.

“That’s probably the driest two months of the year coming up,” said Doug Cramer, meteorologist with the National Weather Service station in Springfield.

Winds, too, can aggravate the problem.

“It is nearly impossible to put it out,” said Dunn.

Tim Stanton, Missouri Department of Conservation forestry regional supervisor, also worries about the possibility of more-severe wildfires.

“In a normal year we have about 3.5 tons of fuel load (per acre) on the ground,” he said, explaining that the fuel load consists of sticks, limbs and leaves. “Since the ice storms (of the past two winters) we are estimating we are at about 34.5 tons per acre.”

“When that does catch on fire, you have more heat and it makes suppression all that much more difficult,” Stanton said.

He said the ice-downed limbs could remain a fire threat for five to eight years.

“The primary cause of fires in Missouri is debris burning,” he said earlier this week. “They underestimate the weather. The primary thing that sneaks up on everybody is the humidity. When the humidity gets low — right now I’m just looking and its 20 percent humidity — it makes things a whole lot more susceptible to burning.

“I actually think it has gotten a little worse (this year),” said Redings Mill Fire Chief Andy Nimmo. “Our anticipation is it is going to be a fairly tough wildland season for us.”

The district is working to educate its patrons about steps they can take to avoid or minimize trouble.

Todd Chlanda, Redings Mill assistant chief of training, said the department is doing a “firewise” assessment that begins with an analysis of the roads leading into a home or business, whether people could get out quickly and safely in the event of a fire, and whether firetrucks could get in and out easily.

The assessment also looks at the type of roof — asphalt versus wood-shake shingle — the brush, grass and trees around the home, the location of a woodpile if wood is burned for heat, whether leaves are removed from gutters and under decks, and more.

The work is part of an effort to be a “firewise” community, which is a national program that encourages residents to identify wildfire hazards and implement mitigation programs in conjunction with state and local fire officials and forestry organizations, Nimmo said.

David Beshears, Pineville city marshal and the former chief of the Pineville Rural Fire Department, said most wildfires are the result of carelessness when people are burning trash or burning a brush pile. His recommendation: “Do not burn if you do not have to.”

Alternative

Tim Stanton, Missouri Department of Conservation forestry regional supervisor, asked residents to consider keeping their brush piles rather than burning them: “It is ugly to the human eye but to the turkey or the rabbit it is shelter.”

Missouri Fire Statistics

Causes of Missouri Wildfires — 2007

Cause Number of Fires Acres Burned

Lightning 11 14.55

Campfire 13 20.05

Smoking 32 106.52

Debris 970 6,204.43

Arson 151 5,881.01

Equipment 103 857.7

Railroads 7 6.5

Children 25 56.55

Misc. 848 7,265.35

TOTAL 2,160 20,412.66

Source: Missouri Department of Conservation


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