Last year, Southwest Missouri was in the midst of another hot, dry summer. This really isn’t anything new and a lot of people wouldn’t be worried except for the fact that over the last several years the area in and around the city of Joplin have been hit by two once-in-a-lifetime ice storms, an EF4 and an EF5 tornado, an inland hurricane and severe drought. This has resulted in a lot of damage to trees in the forest.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the normal fuel load on the forest floor in the area was around 3 ton per acre. After these natural events, the fuel load is now estimated to be around 36 ton per acre and primed to burn. Many of the fire departments have been forced to adapt their wildland firefighting protocols to deal with this increased fuel load. Fires are burning faster and with increased intensity and are threatening more structures than before. Area fire departments are taking heed of these warnings and are preparing for another intense wildland fire season.
I’m not sure that I can even use the term “wildland fire season” anymore. In the past, there was a wildland fire season and it usually occurred in the Spring and in the Fall. Now with the climate changes, lack of winter and precipitation, the “fire season” is a year-round occurrence. Fire departments are fighting wildland fires throughout the year now.
The Carthage (Missouri) Fire Department realized that their communities were not immune to this increased wildland fire danger. Last year they introduced Firewise to the homeowners in their district and began the process to become recognized as Firewise. With the support of the community, the fire department began evaluating homes and created their Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). Carthage Fire Department brought 12 new communities into the Firewise Communities/USA family last year.
This year, they are using their CWPP and addressing their water supply problem in some of their rural areas. They have identified 7 locations to install dry hydrants. (A dry hydrant is a non-pressurized PVC pipe that runs out into a creek, river, lake or pond that a fire engine can hookup to and draft water from to use to fill fire apparatus to fight fires.) They are using their CWPP and Firewise Communities to apply for a grant that will pay for the installation of these hydrants. If the grant is approved, the Carthage Fire Department and the homeowners within their district will have increased their fire protection and seen a return, again, of the work invested into becoming a Firewise Community/USA community.
Fire Chief Chris Thompson said “The community was already doing the requirements for Firewise, why shouldn’t they get something in return for their work? We (the fire department) were in a position to assist these communities and it has turned out to be a win-win situation.” A great example of how partners can work together using a variety of resources in a Fire Adapted Communities approach.
Photo of MDC dozer in heavy downed fuels courtesy of Todd Chlanda.