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Fire Danger High in the Ozarks

An ember floating upward from a burn barrel...A burning oak leaf carried away from a controlled fire... cigarette tossed from a car window. With a Red Flag Warning in effect, any activity, event, or bad habit that causes an out of control fire can result in a prosecution. Mike Smith has the story:

Over the last 12 months, the Southwest region of the state has experienced rainfall deficits from 10-16 inches, and that lack of moisture has created severe drought conditions in the Ozarks. Added to that, the National Weather Service has issued several Red Flag Warnings across the area in recent weeks. The latest warning was issued for January 18th and 19th.

The next alert level up from a Fire Weather Watch, a Red Flag Warning prohibits open burning and is issued to the public and to state and local agencies that are called on to deal with forest and grass fires. National Weather Service Meteorologist Doug Kramer says 3 criteria must be met before a Red Flag Warning is issued: Sustained winds of 15 to 20 mph with higher gusts; humidity levels below 30 percent; and dry vegetation.

State Fire Marshall Randy Cole urges Missourians to refrain from any open burning when conditions such as this are present. He says property loss is of concern, however, more importantly is the potential loss of life resulting from a small leaf fire escalating to an out of control natural cover fire.

Francis Main is a Resource Forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation. She says citizens should use common sense even when conducting a controlled burn in normal conditions, but also says conditions these days are such that a spark or ember from any source can cause big problems.

Main says she knows of instances when sunlight shining through a piece of broken glass along a highway was focused enough to ignite a fire. A spark from a farm implement striking a piece of flint in a field can quickly turn into an out of control grass fire.

Accidental fires are numerous enough, but Francis Main says the vast majority of natural cover fires in Missouri are intentionally set by arsonists.

State Fire Marshall Randy Cole says anyone who engages in outdoor burning when a Red Flag Warning is in effect can be prosecuted by local authorities.

For KSMU News, I'm Mike Smith.