High Risk of Wildfires for Mid-Missouri

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COLUMBIA - Experts are predicting another bad drought for the Midwest this growing season and some say that means yet another bad year for wildfires.

The Boone County Fire Department said it responded to more grass fires than usual last year because of the extremely dry conditions.

Many of those fires occurred in parks such as Finger Lakes State Park or near highways.

"When you're driving along in Boone County you're looking at these fires that happened along the roadside, " said Dr. Richard Guyette, a research professor for the University of Missouri's Forestry Department. "Suddenly I'm seeing six or seven places fires occurred alongside the road. That's due to drought, due to lack of precipitation and our hot temperatures."

Guyette said the amount of fires mid-Missouri experienced last summer is concerning. "Missouri had a great, you know, a very strange fire season [last year], probably 150 percent above normal," Guyette said. "I predict we're going to have another big fire season, probably in Missouri, as well as in many areas of the country."

The danger of such fires is not limited to parks and roadsides. Some Boone County residents experienced fires on their property due in part to last year's drought.

Harman Dickerson, a Columbia resident, lit a small burn pile in his backyard on July 31 last year. Dickerson said after about four hours, the pile, consisting mainly of trash and scraps, looked like it burned out completely. "I failed to go out and spray down the pile after I thought it was burned because there just wasn't any wind or anything I didn't think," Dickerson said. "Later on in the morning, probably about noon, I went [into] town and got a call that I better come back my yard was on fire."

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly the entire state of Missouri was in extreme drought conditions that day.

Dickerson said he was probably gone for 20 minutes when the fire started and quickly spread to the majority of his backyard, coming within about 15 feet of his house. "It was just so dry that the yard just burned really fast I guess," Dickerson said. "You should never do it. I don't think I've burned anything down there since."

He said those dangerous drought conditions taught him a lesson about burning. "I shouldn't have burned, you can't be careful enough to burn when it's that dry. Just period," Dickerson said. "It could've gotten into our house, it could've gotten into my storage shed."

Dickerson said he is lucky there was no serious damage to his property and with another drought this year, he does not even plan to light his grill.

Guyette said wildfires are becoming an increasing problem in Missouri and throughout the world because of higher temperatures.

The Missouri Department of Conservation said some ways you can prevent wildfires on your property are by maintaining your lawn, making sure ornamental shrubs are no taller than 18 inches, and removing dead vegetation.