Wildfire Protection Project completed

Residents in and around Pine Tree Lake subdivision in Washington County are now ready for future wildfire seasons. A first-of-its-kind wildfire protection project aimed at reducing threats to infrastructure and private property was recently completed because of a partnership between the USDA Forest Service, Washington County commissioners, and Pine Tree Lake Homeowner’s Association (HOA).

Two dry hydrants were installed along the shoreline of Pine Tree Lake, a shaded fuel break was created around the perimeter of the subdivision, access roads were improved for fire and rescue equipment, and a secondary escape route for residents and first responders was constructed. 

The Pine Tree Lake subdivision is within a wildland-urban interface, which is a term used to describe an area where structures and human development meet with undeveloped forest land. 

Kevin Wilson, the fire management officer for the Potosi/Fredericktown and Salem ranger districts, worked with the HOA to develop the project proposal.  “We had three main objectives in mind,” said Wilson.  He went on to say, “Pine Tree Lake is surrounded by forest land, so we wanted to protect the subdivision from wildfire, help the landowners create a Firewise community, and increase collaboration between Federal, State, and local fire responders.” 

He added, “this is an important project because increased population growth and resulting development within the county has expanded the wildland-urban interface, further increasing wildfire risk to communities and infrastructure.” 

Between 1992 and 2015, nearly 11,000 acres of land were burned in Washington County mostly as a result of human-caused ignitions such as open burning and arson.  Out of the 110 counties in Missouri, Washington County has the fifth highest rate of wildfire occurrence.

The project was selected for the Forest Service’s Eastern Region Hazardous Fuels Federal Assistance funding.  The Forest Service transferred the funds ($67,500) to the Washington County commissioners through a cooperative agreement.  Washington County Clerk Jeanette Allen worked with the Pine Tree Lake HOA to compile the work specifications, advertise the contract, and track and manage the funds as invoices were submitted by the contractor. 

Wilson was especially appreciative of Allen’s efforts to make this a successful project.  “Mark Twain National Forest had never received this type of funding before, so there was a lot of learning to do on how the Forest Service could transfer funds to the county, and then, how the county and HOA could obligate the funding,” said Wilson.  He added, “Ms. Allen was so patient and helpful throughout the project.”

Randall Mull, the HOA’s project representative directed the protection work on the ground. “We had a contractor come in and cut and chip small diameter trees, shrubs and other woody material on the forest floor with a masticator,” said Mull.  He went on to explain, “The widely spaced trees and open nature of the fuel break surrounding the subdivision will help slow wildfire so firefighters can control it before it gets to private property.”

According to Mull, two dry fire hydrants were installed along the lake and the access roads were improved so fire responders would have easy access to them.  The dry hydrants can now be used to fill water tanks when fighting fire at the subdivision or in the surrounding area. 

“The Potosi Fire Department came out and tested the couplings on the dry hydrants and let fire department personnel practice with the equipment,” Mull said.

Mull also said, “The last two things we did with the funding were to construct a secondary access route from the subdivision to Highway 8 to ensure emergency personnel and residents have an alternate way in and out of the area in the event of a wildfire and purchase a pull-behind bush-hog to maintain the shaded fuel break.”

“This was a rewarding project because we were able to do something that will protect people and property from potential wildfires by collaborating with county officials and private landowners living in proximity to Mark Twain National Forest,” exclaimed Wilson.  

Mark Twain National Forest recently applied for and was awarded Eastern Region Hazardous Fuels Federal Assistance funding for a similar project to be carried out in Reynolds County, Missouri.

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