UPDATE: Wind-blown fires scorch hundreds of acres in Missouri

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 | 4:45 p.m. CST; updated 4:58 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Firefighters respond to a large brush fire Tuesday in Doolittle. The fire which started near Interstate 44 in Arlington burned out of control for more than 10 hours.

KANSAS CITY — A series of wind-blown fires have burned an estimated 5,000 rain-starved acres scattered across several Missouri counties while smaller, more isolated fires were reported in Kansas.

In Missouri, crews worked into Wednesday to monitor the remnants of the blazes that broke out Tuesday when a combination of low humidity, temperatures in the 70s and 40 to 50 mph wind gusts created the "perfect storm for a fire environment," said Ben Webster, fire program supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

He said the National Weather Service issued a red flag fire warning Tuesday for all but two Missouri counties. Though a fire threat remained Wednesday and a few smaller fires were reported, the red flag warning had expired, he said.

"Everything is still dry," he said, adding that Wednesday night's forecast called for rain. "Really what we are doing is mop-up work, making sure the wind doesn't blow trees down, that it hasn't blown anything across those containment lines we put in."

About 200 firefighters responded to one of the largest fires, which started around noon Tuesday in southwest Missouri's Dallas County. Before it was contained early Wednesday, the fire burned about 1,500 acres near Bennett Spring State Park, a popular fishing and float-trip destination.

Officials suspect — but haven't confirmed — that the blaze was sparked by someone burning brush in a yard, said Buffalo Fire Chief Erich Higgins, the operation commander for the blaze. The fire quickly spread across a dry, wooded area known as the Winchester Gap, which contains hunting cabins and homes. Six cars, seven small outbuildings, a pull-behind trailer and a boat were burned. A home also caught on fire but crews saved it, Higgins said.

Higgins said strong winds were the "main problem" and were to blame for "pushing the fire." A few areas continued to smolder Wednesday, and officials with the Missouri Department of Conservation were monitoring the area.

Numerous small fires were reported elsewhere in Dallas County as well as neighboring Laclede and Hickory counties. Higgins said Dallas County alone received about 30 fire calls Tuesday, but mostly they involved a "couple acres here or there."

In south-central Phelps County, fire crews worked to extinguish several fires Tuesday. Webster said the largest of which was an approximately 1,000-acre blaze that caused visibility problems for motorists on Interstate 44 near Rolla. He said several structures also sustained damage.

A large forest fire began Tuesday afternoon in southeastern Missouri between Wappapello and Greenville, according to television station KFVS. A country dispatcher told the station that hundreds of acres burned in a 2,200-acre clear-cut section of forest. Webster said he was still gathering information about that fire.

Webster said forest fires also were reported Tuesday in central Missouri's Callaway County and northeast Missouri's Adair County, although they didn't grow to the size of the fires in the southern part of the state.

Across the state line in Kansas, wind gusts of nearly 50 mph were reported Tuesday, causing most of the state to be placed under a red-flag fire warning, The Wichita Eagle reported. Authorities said a two-vehicle collision Tuesday in Wichita ignited a grass fire that took six fire trucks and their crews to extinguish.

In Hutchinson, crews battled two house fires Tuesday, but officials said they weren't connected. Hutchinson, Kan., Fire Chief Kim Forbes told The Hutchinson News that officials have not yet determined the cause of the fires but noted "it would not take much to set the grass on fire" amid the dry conditions.


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