Fire ignites at Rocky Fork Lakes Conservation Area for the fourth time in nine days

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 | 8:23 p.m. CDT; updated 7:59 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 23, 2012
The Boone County Fire Protection District dispatched 10 vehicles to a fire north of Columbia in the Rocky Forks Lake Conservation Area.

*A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the location of the start of the fire.

COLUMBIA — Wildfire spread through Rocky Fork Lakes Conservation Area,* north of Columbia, for the fourth time in nine days. 

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but Boone County Fire Protection District Lt. Josh Creamer said the fire was probably caused by a smoldering ember from one of the three previous fires in the same area.

Dispatch records show that crews have been sent to Peabody Road four times in nine days: July 9, July 12, Sunday and today. The dry conditions make it extremely easy for fires to catch, and warm wind allows them to spread quickly, Creamer said. 

At 4 p.m., the fire had grown to between 20 and 25 acres and had spread into the Rocky Fork Lakes Conservation Area. Four active crews were working to contain the fire, occasionally being replaced by relief firefighters because of the extreme heat and the nature of their work. At the time, it was 102 degrees in Columbia.

Because of the extreme heat, the Fire District has been sending extra rehab or support vehicles to these fires.

When firefighters are relieved, they are taken to a formal rehab unit where they are monitored by medical professionals. Their vital signs are measured, they drink multiple bottles of water and relax in an air conditioned unit. They don't go back out to fight fires until their heart rate and blood pressure have returned to normal, Creamer said. 

"Normal is different for everyone, so it is an individual process, but they are medically evaluated," he said. "Firefighter safety is our No. 1 priority."

Ten trucks responded to the fire, including four brush trucks, one fire engine, two water tankers and support vehicles. Approximately 35 firefighters were working. An ambulance from the Boone Hospital Center was also present. 

As of 6:30 p.m., the fire was declared under control. Creamer said firefighters would probably be there for at least an additional hour, walking the fire line and making sure there are no smoldering embers that could spark and cause the fire to spread or burn into the night. 

Creamer said there was no property damage done by the fire, just dry grass and forest area burned. The fire spread from the old landfill area east to a wooded area, and continued onto Conservation Department land. A team from the conservation department was also working with firefighters to subdue the blaze.

According to Susan DeWitt, who works for the Conservation Department, the fire can be controlled with power leaf blowers. DeWitt had a leaf blower strapped to her back and said fires could be attacked directly with the leaf blowers or could be used to build fire lines.

No firefighters were seriously injured fighting the blaze, though a couple became dehydrated, Creamer said. 

Supervising editor is Celia Darrough.

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