Prescribed fire can be an effective tool for clearing and rejuvenating growth in farm fields when used under proper conditions and with supervision. However, springtime wildfires are a serious threat to property owners throughout the Ozarks. Steven LaVal, Resource Forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation for Laclede, Dallas and Hickory counties is keenly aware of the problem as earlier this month, he and his crews found themselves fighting fires on an estimated 5,000 acres in the area in a single day.
“We try to use the best technology available to stop a fire and that is dependent on the day and the conditions,” LaVal explained. “That means some days it may be a rake and a leaf blower and other days it may take a bulldozer.”
The use of bulldozers and cutting fences to combat fires has at times, put conservation personnel and firefighters on opposing sides with landowners in a long-running controversy.
“Our principle concern is to protect life and property and our preference is to use the least invasive means possible to put out any fire. Obviously, if we’re having trouble stopping a fire as it crosses a highway, when it comes to a pasture, there will be no stopping it without serious equipment. And make no mistake, wildfires are a very real threat. We lost a house and had three firefighters injured in this spring's fires. Obviously, we don’t want to do more damage than the fire itself, but most people are relieved to see the bulldozer come in, if it makes the difference as to whether or not they will lose their house.”
LaVal continued, “The other issue is time and manpower. A bulldozer can put in a fire line six times faster than firefighters can do it by hand.” This spring's fires also involved bringing in assistance from six surrounding counties to assist in the firefighting effort.
When asked for his best suggestion as to what the average landowner can do to protect their property, Steven recommended the website, a nationally sponsored multi-agency effort to educate homeowners and entire communities on how to best protect themselves long before a wildfire threatens.
LaVal concluded, “The big question is, will your house survive if you’re not there one afternoon when a wildfire comes sweeping through? You can’t always depend on the fire truck to be there in time.
“If we don’t have to protect each and every piece of property that frees up more manpower to fight a fire. Defensible space is the most important aspect for home owners in this area. Tall grass and last year’s leaves up against the house make it very difficult to stop a fire coming toward your house. If people will take the necessary steps to protect their own property, it can be the difference that it makes.”


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