Windy, dry conditions last week contributed to an outbreak of grass fires across the region, sending firefighters in many directions.
Alton Fire Chief Eddie Johnson said most of his 20-member, all-volunteer department helped battle four blazes on Wednesday, March 23, in and around Oregon County. The largest of which was on Highway AA, where a controlled burn of sawdust at a sawmill got out of control, fanned by 30 mph wind gusts.
"Several houses were in danger on AA," Johnson said Monday, March 28. "I've got a good department. They kept the fire under control before it got to any houses."
Alton firefighters also worked a fire on Highway M, covering for Rover Fire Department firefighters, who were at a fire on Highway T, near Thomasville. After the Highway AA fire was contained, Johnson then sent firefighters to help extinguish the Highway T fire.
Alton firefighters also worked alongside crews from the Rover and BB Road fire departments during the day.
All of the fires began in the early afternoon.
In the southern part of the county, Thayer and Myrtle firefighters quenched flames alongside Highway 142, about six miles east of Thayer.
That fire appeared to have been set, Thayer Fire Chief Norman Todd said, as the fire began in four spots within a mile of each other along the highway.
Crews were able to keep the fire contained to the shorter grass and not into the woods, he said.
It wasn't the only fire Thayer firefighters worked that afternoon.
"We were real busy," Todd said. "We had four calls Wednesday back to back."
Of Thayer's 22 volunteer firefighters, seven worked at least six hours each at various fires that, under normal conditions, would have been doused much sooner.
"Usually, we can knock them out in one to two hours," Todd said.
Todd, too, cited dry conditions and high winds with fueling fires across the region.
About four acres of grass burned along Highway 19 on the Terry Williams property when a landowner attempted to burn some hay and caught a large tree on fire, Todd said.
"We had to cut the tree down to get the fire out," Todd said.
Todd said county residents were fortunate no structures were lost, but should be careful with fire during dry weather. Thayer was under a burn ban at the time of the fires, he said.
"People just don't understand," Todd said. "We're in pretty good shape now after the rain Friday, but it won't take long for the wind to dry everything out again."
Fire crews from Koshkonong, Brandsville and Lanton also were out in force last week, helping battle large grass fires in Howell and Ozark counties, where two fires consumed about 1,680 acres and three homes.
The Howell County fire, of about 1,000 acres, occurred when a controlled burn got out of control 12 miles southeast of West Plains about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
More than 70 firefighters from 10 fire districts battled that fire, according to Lanton Fire Chief Blake Bowers.
A burn ban had been in place for several days at the time of the fire, Bowers said.
Following the second large fire, no charges are pending against an Ozark County homeowner who ignited one blaze when a fire in his trash barrel escaped. That fire ravaged 680 acres.
Missouri statutes task each fire district with issuing its own fire danger levels. Those who violate a burn ban, resulting in fire damage to another's property, face civil and criminal penalties.