Since mid-November, St. Clair firefighters have responded to 22 brush fires, according to Fire Capt. Dan Cooley.
He said at least a third of those brush fires were caused by someone burning leaves and sticks. Cooley urges area residents to hold off on open burnings due to the dry and windy weather conditions.
“We’ve not had any measurable rain in some time. Probably close to a month again,” he said.
Leaves, branches, sticks and other items are very dry due to the low moisture and humidity, which can cause small fires to grow.
“All conditions are just right for a big brush fire,” Cooley said.
Burning leaves in windy conditions can produce more embers in a fire than normal, according to Cooley. He said since embers are so light in weight, it is easy for them to float away and potentially cause a brush fire without someone realizing it.
“Embers can float into the wood line and next thing you know, you’ve got woods on fire,” Cooley said.
In addition, for people with wood-burning stoves or fireplaces, Cooley advises putting those ashes in an area where they will not spread because there could be embers not fully out.
“Those ashes hold heat for so long, like a lot longer than you think,” Cooley said.
A few years ago, he said firefighters responded to a house fire, which started from a brush fire.
“The guy dumped his ashes out of his wood stove in a place that he didn’t think anything about three days prior.
“So those embers, they can last that long buried in an ash pile – you wouldn’t even know,” Cooley said.
So far this fall, the National Weather Service has issued 10 red flag warnings for southern and east central Missouri including St. Clair and surrounding areas. The latest one was issued Monday, Dec. 11, according to Cooley.
Red flag warnings mean that weather conditions are high for wildland fires to start and spread. Monday’s warning stated that there was an elevated risk for fires due to brisk winds, low moisture and low humidity.
Cooley said there needs to be a period of heavy rain-fall or snow in order for there to be enough moisture on the ground for burnings. Having a wet layer on the ground can help control burns naturally and not get out of hand.
“We’ve been fortunate that none of the brush fires that we’ve had turned out to be huge in nature,” Cooley said.
For updates regarding red flag warnings and information, visit the St. Clair Fire Protection District Facebook page.