Last updated: March 25. 2014 1:16PM - 1055 Views
By Travis McMullen Contributing Columnist

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Roughly 400,000 years ago, one of humankind’s ancestral species, Homo erectus, manipulated fire sufficiently to leave enough evidence to be found in modern times. Ever since, we’ve had a tumultuous relationship with the rabid combustion of various accelerants.

We collectively tread the line of keeping that classic element tame — the lighter in our pockets produces the same phenomenon that takes down buildings, forests and neighborhoods. The first hominid that ever gazed upon a fire was probably awed, but here in the modern world we probably don’t give it the reverence it deserves because we can summon fire whenever we want with a simple and cheap device from the local convenience store.

The winter was harsh (I would say “is” harsh, but we’re officially about a week into “spring”) and it wasn’t kind to the local flora population. Large areas of grass, weeds and other plants are dead, dry and especially combustible. Cold weather leads to dead plants which leads to excessive ground kindling.

And that’s why our friendly weather services issue red flag warnings, and why our local fire district issues a burn ban, even though it’s really more like a burn reduction suggestion rather than an outright ban — according to the release, at least:

“The PCFD (Pettis County Fire Department) Board of Directors have deemed that these dry conditions render it necessary and reasonable to immediately prohibit open fires for the protection of persons and property within the District. An ‘open fire’ shall mean any fire where the flames are visible outside the confines of the container. Violation of this ban is a misdemeanor and punishable under the provisions of 321.220 (12) RSMo. This burn ban will be in full force and effect until expired at the discretion of the PCFD Board of Directors.”

I can’t just tell the fire to stay below the top edge of the barrel! I can’t stand there with a fire extinguisher to make sure it does! All right, so they’re probably suggesting that if people absolutely must burn something for some reason that they should do it in smaller batches.

Look, I understand there are a not-insignificant number of local, rural people who don’t get consistent garbage service and end up burning most of their trash. When you clear some brush, or take down some long-dead trees it is natural to put them in a pile and burn them away. But don’t load the barrel up and just let the brush accumulate a little bit. I understand that it is inconvenient to suddenly be without your main method of disposal, and that burn bans disproportionately affect rural people, but we just can’t risk widespread wildfires.

For the last few weeks I’ve been getting consistent reminders via Facebook and in my email inbox that we are definitely still under the burn ban. I’ve subscribed to Pettis County Sheriff’s Office advisory messages ever since they’ve been available via Nixle and about a week ago I received the shortest notification that I have ever received from them; maybe the bluntness was purposeful to emphasize the seriousness of the situation:

“Pettis County Firefighters are battling numerous grass/brush fires that have gotten out of hand. Please do not burn!”

Normally, the updates are at least a paragraph long and spiced up with citations and definitions. And it seems that with this update, the advice has switched fully from “all right, burn a little” to “just stop.” We couldn’t handle a little burning responsibly, so they’re suspending the privilege. Darn bureaucrats, the constitution says I can burn whatever I want whenever I want!

And the ironic thing about sending updates like these through various Internet channels is that many of the people who burn their brush or their garbage are probably less likely to have Internet access. Most of the people who are seeing them are probably already abiding by the burn ban.

Despite the cold weather that we’ve been experiencing the last couple of days the burn ban is still in effect, so this is for the people who might not be aware that we’re in a burn ban, or the people who might still not care despite the continued warnings — there have been many fire incidents during the burn ban and we’re lucky that the fine people at the Pettis County Fire District have been standing between us and a widespread wildfire incident.

Don’t tempt the fire, it is without remorse and will thoughtlessly take everything that you give it the opportunity to take.

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