UPDATE: Hallsville fire reignites due to 'red-flag' weather conditions

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 | 8:10 p.m. CDT; updated 10:18 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Mitch Swann, firefighter with the Boone County Fire Protection District, helps put out a fire on Wednesday at 10601 E. Mount Zion Church Road in Hallsville.

COLUMBIA — The Hallsville fire that took down a barn Wednesday morning sparked back up in the afternoon. 

The second round of flames burned approximately three additional acres, incinerating a field of dry grass and more hay. Previously in the day, fire caused by an unknown source inside a farm building swept over dry grass and burned the property. 

The property owner lost his machinery, said Russ Martin, who works on the farm baling hay. He pointed to a smoldering pile of twisted metal, a buried 1950s-era pickup truck and a swimming-pool-size gasoline tank. Martin said owner Michael McGowan was out of town at the time of the fire and that no one was in the building or on the property when the fire started.

"I'd like to know what started it, that's my thing," Martin said.

His 35-year-old son Kevin Martin said he wondered why a fire started Wednesday of all days.

"It has been this hot and this dry now for weeks," the younger Martin said. "That's weird."

Unfortunately, according to firefighters, current weather conditions make this story all too probable. 

"We've declared — within the firefighting force — red flag conditions," Battalion Chief Chuck Leake said. "Everything atmospherically is the absolute worst it could be for fires." 

Red flag conditions mean humidity is low, temperatures are high and wind is elevated. Between the time neighbor Larry Rippeto spotted the resurgent fire and the time the Boone County Fire Protection District arrived on the scene, the fire swept across an entire field of dry grass.

To combat the second fire, firefighters brought one water tank, two fire engines, three brush units and a rehab support unit. No one was injured in the fire. Within 15 minutes of arrival the fire was controlled.

Firefighters believe the second fire probably started when wind picked up a spark from a smoldering bale of hay. Firefighters performed controlled burns on the charred land to force the hay bales to burn out once and for all. They unrolled the flaming bales with large hooks and allowed the flames to kick up, burn strongly and then eventually go out when the fuel had been extinguished. 

"You could put water on 'em all day long and not get them out," assistant fire chief Doug Westhoff said. "Bales of hay need to be unrolled. With the wind and this weather, fire conditions are dynamic."

The first fire started at 9:47 a.m. when several 1-ton hay bales caught fire.

Westhoff said it could be days before the fire is done smoldering. 

To keep property safe, Boone County residents are encouraged to cut dry grass down very low, keep trees at least 100 feet from houses and cut down all combustibles — weeds, brush, dry grasses or any other potential fuel sources. 

Tall grass growing right up next to houses in these conditions leave structures indefensible, especially on farm properties, Leake said. 

"Don't burn anything right now," Leake said. "No open burning, sparks, or sources for ignition. You're just asking for a fire."

Supervising editor is Celia Darrough.

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