In an effort to re-establish fire's natural role in the forest ecosystem, prescribed fires will be conducted on Mark Twain National Forest grounds in southern Missouri over the next several months.
These designated fires will also help improve forest health, wildlife habitat and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires.
"People living in and near the forest may notice smoke and an increase in Forest Service personnel and equipment on county and Forest Service roads," said Jody Eberly, Mark Twain National Forest's fire management officer.
In addition, Eberly said if smoke is seen in the area, patrons are asked to look for posted burn signs, keep vehicle head lights on low beam and drive slowly.
"Public safety is always our primary concern," said Eberly. "Prescribed burns are conducted when the conditions indicate that there will be minimal impact to the public."
According to Eberly, conditions that must be met before a prescribed fire can be ignited include:
* The day chosen must be a combination of correct humidity, which includes wind speed and direction.
* Fuel moisture.
* Atmospheric conditions.
Factoring in the above requirements limits the number of days a prescribed fire can take place.
"Fire is an essential force that has shaped ecosystems in the state," said Mark Twain National Forest Supervisor David Whittekiend. "Past experience and fire history research indicate that carefully planned prescribed fires can serve as an effective tool in restoring forest health."
Due to the ice storm that occurred in January of 2009, and the wind storm in May of 2009, there will be an increase in fuel on forest grounds for the next several years.
"Prescribed fire will help decrease the potential for serious wildfires by reducing the amounts of combustible fuel loads created by these natural weather events," said Whittekiend. "We are committed to keeping communities informed about prescribed fire activities and the benefits of maintaining the health of Missouri's National Forest."
Trained and experienced crews will direct and conduct each prescribed burn under the direction of the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service Division.
Individuals who have smoke sensitivities can contact the nearest ranger district and ask to be notified of upcoming burns.
For more information and weekly updates on prescribed fires, call 1-866-800-8595 or visit Mark Twain National Forest's website at www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/marktwain.