COLUMBIA — The Missouri Department of Conservation has issued an immediate statewide fire ban in all conservation areas. The ban includes campfires and any source of open flames, such as charcoal grills or the use of firewood in cooking fires.
“The ban is being issued as a result of the continued dry spell,” Ben Webster, the conservation department's wildland fire supervisor, said. “It’s been a couple months since we have had significant rainfall which in turn has dried out all significant vegetation and fuels on the ground and with that comes the potential increase for fire.”
The department's fire ban seeks to prevent incidents like the current forest fire in Mark Twain National Forest near Rolla. Firefighters have been battling the fire since Thursday afternoon.
“We are still working hard at it,” Jody Eberly, fire management officer for Mark Twain National Forest, said.
The wildfire has reached about 550 acres but firefighters have contained almost 40 percent.
“There is some spotting going on but they are trying to get the fire lines built to contain the fire,” Eberly said. “But the conditions are still pretty intense with high temperatures and low humidity. The fires are still pretty active and this is still a pretty dangerous situation.”
Despite difficult weather conditions, Eberly believes the fire will be contained shortly.
“I don’t think it will be weeks but it certainly will be longer then today,” Eberly said.
The Mark Twain National Forest wildfire reinforces the logic behind the department's fire ban.
"It's all part of the same weather scenario,” Webster said. “The same scenario could happen anywhere on state land or private land in the state of Missouri right now.”
The U.S. Forest Service in Missouri and various Missouri city and county officials have issued similar fire bans as the department. Webster is unsure how long the department fire ban will stand.
“The ban is in effect until we receive significant rainfall that will influence the weather and the conditions we have now,” Webster said.
Webster also advises smokers to dispose of cigarette butts responsibly and urges people to be cautious when off-road driving on tall, dry grass or piles of leaves that can easily ignite.
Despite the ban, Webster said contained camp stoves and charcoal cooking fires inside concrete or metal fire rings are permissible.
Webster suggests that people call 911 or a local emergency service at the first sign of a fire. People can call Operation Forest Arson at 800-392-1111 if they witness or suspect a possible arson. Calls will remain anonymous and rewards are possible.
“We don’t recommend folks try to extinguish fire by themselves because it can result in these types of injuries and they will happen,” Webster said.
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