Late Tuesday firefighters west of Rolla, Missouri, said they were close to getting a massive brush fire under control that was flanking both sides of Interstate 44. The fire, fueled by dry ground and gusty winds, burned much of the day, Tuesday, crossing over the interstate about 2pm. Lanes were closed on I-44 west of Rolla at times due to heavy smoke impeding motorists’ vision.
It’s too early to determine a cause, but investigators confirm they’re looking into reports of residential burning during the day.
The thought of someone doing that on a clear red flag day in the area is baffling to homeowner Keith West. He stood in his yard Tuesday night not far from a garden hose which he’d been using to wet things down as the flames moved closer to his brand new home.
“It’s been pretty stressful with the wind blowing right toward us the whole time,” he said. “It’s like, is the wind gonna shift? Is it gonna come this way? Then when the fire popped on that ridge over there I got the hose and went to wetting everything down. My dad went to wetting everything down.”
He says it’s a helpless feeling watching the fire creep closer, within two or three-hundred yards of his home.
“When it was on that other ridge I was worried,” he said.
But he was one of the lucky ones. While forest service officials say there were more than a hundred homes in danger of burning, the Rolla Daily News reports two homes were already destroyed near Arlington, Missouri.
Those fighting the fire say the winds have turned the situation into “a nightmare.”
“Fire just runs with it,” Rick Case of the U.S. Forest Service said. “Any time we have a lot of wind we’re gonna have a lot of issues with it. We can’t do a lot of things we would normally do like backfire and things because we don’t want to put any more fire on the ground and it spots. Embers get to blowing across roads and other control lines and it becomes a huge issue. “
And those same embers can turn something that appears to be under control into another flash point.
“You don’t even know that the ember is laying out there smoldering, then all of a sudden you look off in one direction and look back and the fire’s burning again. So it just blows with the wind basically,” he said.
Winds were still gusty, but calmer Tuesday night, but are forecasted to pick up again Wednesday. Another red flag warning has already been posted.