Discover Nature: Fire in Missouri

Apr 4, 2021

Discover Nature this week with fire in Missouri. Fire is an important part of our lives. To some, memories of campfires bring warm and pleasant feelings, but others remember the horrors of wildfires.

In nature, fire is both beneficial and destructive, and can change a landscape for better or worse. Some fires result in richer plant diversity as burned areas are colonized by plants different than those living in nearby, unburned areas. Although fire kills many plants and animals, it also removes leaf litter and keeps brush from forming dense thickets. Many animals and plants have lived with fire for thousands of years and have adapted to survive. However, other fires contribute to erosion and wash nutrients from the soil.

There is an important distinction between wildfire and prescribed fire: Prescribed fire is carefully planned and controlled. A “burn plan” is essential in using fire as a management tool. It includes a statement of the burn’s objectives—what results are intended by burning.

The plan also sets requirements for weather conditions before and during the burn and includes considerations for smoke dispersal and contingency plans in case the fire escapes the designated area. Trained personnel and equipment must be available to conduct the burn safely and then evaluate the area to see that the fire met its objectives.

The intensity of prescribed burns is noticeably less than wildfires, but the response to prescribed fire by vegetation and animal life is often dramatic. Many plant and animal species that were long absent repopulate the area within and near the burn area.

Fire is an important part of the global carbon cycle, releasing chemicals bound into plants during growth. Carbon is returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide gas, and a variety of mineral nutrients are recycled as ash.

Most of the landscape in America has burned one or more times during the past few hundred years. Today, carefully controlled burns are helping to restore natural communities such as prairies and glades. Fire has again become part of the natural landscape.

More information about fire in Missouri can be found online at MissouriConservation.org