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Importance of Reducing Wildfire Risk

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November 22, 2019


Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today, we're talking about the importance of reducing wildfire risk.

Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today, we're speaking with Dr. John Willis, Mississippi State University Assistant Professor.

John, today we're talking about fuel. We're not talking about gasoline, though. This is fuel related to wildfires. So, what exactly is a wildfire fuel?

John Willis: Well, Amy, a wildfire fuel is essentially anything that the wildfire is burning or using to complete the combustion process. That can include sticks, twigs, leaves, bark, or organic material in the soil. All those can be burned and are considered, broadly, as the fuel complex.

Amy Myers: Okay, so how exactly does this relate to the risk of wildfire?

John Willis: Sure. Well, fuel contributes to the intensity of wildfire, and so typically the more fuel you have, or the more combustible it is, or the more volatile it is, the more intensive fire that you're going to have. The more intense fire you have, the less likely we're going to be able to suppress it, and of course that is a greater risk to human lives and property.

Amy Myers: Okay, so that's sticks, leaves, anything like that. Tree bark.

John Willis: Yeah. Decomposed logs, things like that.

Amy Myers: Okay. What are some severe mistakes that we, as humans, make that actually cause wildfires?

John Willis: Well, the two biggest things that humans do with wildfire is they use fire when they shouldn't. So, when it's really dry or really windy, you should never consider doing things like lighting fireworks or cigarettes. Or at least be mindful, and don't flick that cigarette out the window. Don't ever do that, but especially when it's hot and windy.

The other issue is, typically when people are using fire and they're done with it, they don't complete the process by completely extinguishing it. Commonly you see this in campfires and things like that. That ember can sit there and smolder and smolder. The weather can change, or the wind can pick up, and that can become an active fire again. And so that's a cardinal sin that people tend to do when they're recreating in the forest.

Amy Myers: Right. And, you know, to you, flicking a cigarette out might not be a big deal. It's just a small thing, but it can actually cause a huge, huge wildfire and injure people, or injure animals, and such.

With that said, what do you want to say about maybe chicken houses or something? I know a lot of people don't think about agricultural property being near a place that they would burn.

John Willis: Yeah, it's one of the major concerns with any fire, is smoke. Smoke with chicken houses is particularly bad, as it can cause, obviously, mortality to the chickens. And in a wildfire situation obviously those chickens are not going to be mobile, and they're not going to be able to escape a fire, so you could have a very unfortunate situation on your hands. So, you always need to be careful with fire, but particularly when you're working with fire around chicken houses.

Amy Myers: The reason for that is the way that they're ventilated through those fans?

John Willis: Yeah. The smoke is going to essentially end up collecting inside of the chicken house, and will poison the chickens.

Amy Myers: Yeah, and you definitely don't want to do that to someone else's property. You don't want to be the one responsible for that, right?

John Willis: That would be very unadvisable.

Amy Myers: What can be done to reduce wildfire risk?

John Willis: Well, there are several things that we can do to reduce the risk of wildfire. One of the most important is to put a fire break up, and all that is is essentially a lane or a patch of ground where you've taken all the vegetation off. You've taken it down to bare mineral soil. What that does is eliminates the fuel that we talked about earlier, so when the fire hits that, it lays down and it becomes less intense. And that's something to maintain to keep a fire on your property, or a part of your property that you want to burn.

Other things that you can do are to follow burn bans when they're in place. Never burn during an active burn ban. They're there for a reason, and it's public safety.

Another thing is to avoid burning in an open container, like burning trash, as oftentimes the trash will blow up and will blow an ember into a forested area. And that can very quickly escalate into a wildfire.

Amy Myers: What about if I want to burn trash? What if I want to burn tires?

John Willis: Burning tires is probably never a good idea.

Amy Myers: So, instead of burning tires, why not just take them to a recycling place or to an automotive place that takes old used tires?

John Willis: That sounds like a much better idea.

Amy Myers: Thank you so much.

Today, we've been speaking with Dr. John Willis, Mississippi State University Assistant Professor. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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