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High Winds and Dry Air Cause Worry Over Fire Conditions

Credit- Springfield Fire Department

You might not associate January with brush fires – but nearly half of Missouri is experiencing abnormally dry conditions right now, according to the US Drought Monitor. Those dry conditions, combined with high winds, have local officials concerned. KSMU’s Shane Franklin has details.

Randy Villines is the assistant fire chief for the Springfield Fire Department. He’s warning local residents to be mindful of the extreme winds and dry conditions if they decide to brave the cold and handle an open flame outdoors.

He says since the first of this year, his office has already dealt with 11 natural vegetation fires--or brushfires—in the area.

“One of the misconceptions is the fact that while we’ve had a lot of snow, and rain in-between snows, we really shouldn’t be having any brush fires, right? You have to remember that any type of moisture gets absorbed into the ground. You’ve got the surface vegetation that is subject to the wind, and the wind dries it out rather quickly. You still have the potential for brushfires, grassfires, on the surface,” says Villines.

Just below the state border in Arkansas, several counties have issued all-out burn bans.

Lucretia Richardson is the executive assistant for the Boone County judge near Harrison, Arkansas, where a burn ban is currently in effect.

“The restrictions are there’s no open burning what so ever. If you do burn while the burn ban is on, and the fire department has to come out, you can be fined,” says Richardson.

Richardson says in Arkansas, the suggestion for a ban comes from the local fire chief, then it has to be authorized by the county judge.

Mike O’Connell with the Office of the State Fire Marshall in Missouri says according to legislation signed by Governor Jay Nixon after the drought of 2012, a county official has to contact his office before a burn ban can be issued. He says there hasn’t been any burn bans issued this year in the state, despite very dry conditions.

And Randy Villines has a few tips for Springfield residents: clear up your yard waste and take it to a yard-waste center so that your yard is not fueling the flames in these cold, dry, windy conditions.

For KSMU News, I’m Shane Franklin.