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Pope County firefighters are partnering with Shawnee National Forest to assess the risks of wildfire to Pope County homes, thanks to a grant from the local non-profit Shawnee Resource, Conservation & Development Area.

“Our primary goal is to keep Pope County homeowners safe, and we believe the message of preparing early and making their homes safe from wildfire will help us achieve that goal,” said Josh Light, Captain, Rural Pope County Fire Protection District. “If we identify risks through an assessment, we then want to provide the homeowner with options to reduce that risk. Most times, it’s a simple fix like making sure leaves don’t accumulate under your home or deck.”

In the coming weeks, Pope County firefighters will knock on doors and offer this free service. Risk assessment allows fire fighters to evaluate a home’s particular exposure to fire, as well as the critical factors that increase risk. Risk is determined by how land nearby is being used, what kind of plant life is found near the home and from what materials the home is built.

“Much of Pope County is considered a low to moderate fire hazard environment,” said Scott Crist, the Fire Management Officer for Shawnee National Forest. “However, homeowners living in Pope County’s fire risk areas should learn how to live more safely with the threat from wildfire. The risk assessment will identify what homeowners can do now – before a wildfire starts.”

Homeowners who would like to request a free assessment or more information should contact [email protected].The Rural Pope County Fire Protection District is able to offer these assessments free to Pope County homeowners due to funds made available by Shawnee Resource, Conservation & Development Area. Shawnee RC&D received a grant from the Forest Service to help implement the Pope County Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

The Pope County Community Wildfire Protection Plan evaluated wildfire threat to the communities and infrastructure. It also identified measures that people who own homes and land can take to reduce the impact of wildfire to life, property and other community values at risk. The Pope Community Wildfire Protection Plan can be downloaded at

About Prescribed Fire

Prescribed fire is different from wildfire. It is a planned fire that is overseen by professionals. It is performed under specific weather conditions and are designed to mimic fire that historically occurred on the forest.  Fire helps maintain healthy oak forests, according to scientists who study native plants, birds and other wildlife. That’s why conservationists use fire as a tool to restore Southern Illinois forests.

By bringing fire back to the forest, Shawnee National Forest hopes to:

•                    Encourage the growth of a diverse array of plant life, including sun-loving plants and grasses.

•                    Ensure oaks remain the keystone species in our forests. Oaks provide food for about 100 different animals. Using fire to bring light into our forests helps oaks grow. Without fire, shade-tolerant species will take over and eventually replace oak as the dominant species in our forest.

•                    Protect human property by reducing the amount of down, dead wood in the forest. That way if a wildfire happens, it would be less intense, and potentially easier to control.

•                    Perpetuate prairie and savannah remnants found within the forest. These remnant plant communities provide habitat for several early-successional song bird species, such as prairie warblers and red-headed woodpeckers. Maintaining these open woodland conditions with prescribed fire increases biodiversity in both plant and animal species.

About Shawnee RC&D

Since its founding in 1967, Shawnee RC&D Area, Inc. has served the Southernmost Illinois region as a source for Resource Conservation, Environmental Education and Economic Development. The organization believes that our natural resources are the basis and backdrop for quality living in Southern Illinois and strive to ensure they are preserved for future generations. More information is available at:


About Shawnee National Forest

Administered by the USDA Forest Service, Shawnee National Forest is one of 155 national forests nationwide. As the only national forest in Illinois, the Shawnee offers numerous avenues for connecting with the natural world through its 280,000 acres of varied landscape. Whether your interests lie more in outdoor recreational activities, such as hiking or camping, or include learning about the unique natural and cultural heritage of southern Illinois, the fields, forests and streams of the Shawnee welcome you. To discover more about the Shawnee National Forest, visit