As smoke spreads east, Boles firefighters head west to battle blazes


GRAY SUMMIT, Mo. – Imagine this, you take a vacation from your job as a Boles Fire Protection District firefighter to head west to battle monster wildfires.

“We have Assistant Chief Byron Long. He’s out on a fire in northern California. We have a captain, Richard Long. He’s in Wyoming doing some of the fires as well,” said Boles Fire Protection District Deputy Chief Justin Spraul.

Spraul says the father and son train on their own time and will spend up to two weeks away from their families helping where they can.

“They work 12-14 hours at a time. A lot of hiking. Lots of in the woods. A lot of on their own. A lot of the work is getting on their hands and knees, feel the dirt, making sure it’s cool and that the fire is put out,” Spraul said.

Extremely dry conditions are fueling the raging western wildfires, charring more than a million acres. By Wednesday, smoke, carried by the jet stream, stretched to the East Coast.

Luckily, the smoke over St. Louis is staying aloft and not causing air quality issues for now.

The fires are so hot that they create their own weather. The blaze heats up the air closest to the ground. That air rises, becomes saturated, forming large clouds that can grow into towering thunderheads or pyrocumulonimbus clouds.

Those fire clouds produce strong winds and lightning, both bad news for crews trying to contain a rampaging fire.

“Fire travels extreme speeds, 30-40 miles per hour plus if the fire is running. The winds change at a moment’s notice and they got to get out,” Spraul said.

As long as the fires burn, interagency teams will continue to cross the country, helping to replenish people and supplies spread thin fighting the numerous blazes.

“Around the St. Louis area, we’re fortunate. We’ve had a lot of guys, all the way from the Forest Service, Conservation agents, they all get together. They team up and go state to state helping each other out,” Spraul said.

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