Cooler temperatures predicted, but fire still a worry

By Emily Jarrett

March 21, 2014

Warmer temperatures and strong breezes may signal the start of spring, but they bring with them a serious risk of fires.

On Wednesday the Pettis County Fire District Board of Directors issued a burn ban and Friday saw increased warnings as the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill issued a red-flag warning. Thanks to a cold front coming in today, however, the area may see some relief.

“Temperatures will turn much colder over the weekend, with highs in the upper 40s. The cold front will take care of our low humidity problem but we’ll still have stronger winds,” said NWS Senior Meteorologist Evan Bookbinder.

Next week’s temperatures will run 20 to 25 degrees below normal for this time of year, he added.

“Tuesday should be the coldest with temperatures around 38 degrees,” Bookbinder said. “Later in the week it will trend warmer.”

While the red-flag warning expired Friday evening, the county-wide burn ban will be in effect until “things start greening up,” said Pettis County Fire Department Chief Jeff Williams.

“We’ve had some snow lately but that doesn’t get into the soil like rain does,” Williams said. “So we still have to worry about dry grounds.”

During the past few weeks alone firefighters have be called to nearly 20 brush and grass fires, a record high for this time of year, Williams said.

“High winds and low moisture mean things can get out of hand pretty quickly,” he said. “Everything is still pretty dry, which means fire can take hold and spread easily.”

Williams said the board looks at many factors when issuing a burn ban, including weather conditions, number of calls the department has gone on and size and intensity of the fire. The current burn ban prohibits open burning; residents may burn items in burn barrels, but the flames cannot be visible above the barrel.

“There’s not much you can burn without flames being seen so we recommend to just not burn anything until it starts greening up,” Williams said.