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Around 100 firefighters battle grass fire near Monett

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tinder-like conditions in the recent heat proved their danger on Tuesday when a fire got out of control near Farm Roads 1100 and 2220 during the noon hour on Tuesday. The fire quickly spread to the north, jumping Farm Road 2230, shown above, and proceeding for over a mile and a quarter. [Times Photos by Murray Bishoff]
Around 100 firefighters from over a dozen departments battled a fire on Tuesday that jumped two county roads and blackened between 200 and 300 acres in over nine hours.

The fire started at 21278 Farm Road 1100 in Lawrence County shortly after noon on Tuesday. Monett Fire Chief Tom Jones said welding on a corral sent sparks into the dry grass, igniting the blaze.

Initially the fire headed towards the nearby house. Jones said fires make their own wind and shortly switched to the southwest.

The field north of Farm Road 2010 is shown above, where the fire's northern march was stopped before it jumped to the east. A burn ban remains in effect for the Monett, Pierce City, Freistatt, Verona and Purdy area.
"The fire took off and there was no stopping it," Jones said.

Acrossing a field about three quarters of a mile, the fire jumped Farm Road 2010 to the north and began threatening another farm with chicken houses and livestock in its path.

Monett city firefighters arrived on the scene moments before the Freistatt fire department arrived. Jones said he was asked to take command so that the Freistatt firemen could concentrate on the fire. In addition to Monett Rural firefighters, Jones called in Pierce City and Aurora city and rural departments, Mt. Vernon and Verona to help.

"Our main objective was to keep the fire away from the houses, the chicken houses and the round hay bales in the field," Jones said. "I positioned Mt. Vernon on Farm Road 2200 to keep the fire from going any farther north."

Firefighters managed to contain the northward movement of the blaze in the first two hours, but the fire moved to the east and breeched a timber line.

"Once it got to the trees and got into the timber, we were just fighting a losing battle," Jones said. "We could see the fire in the tree tops. There was a bean field on the north, and sparks from the trees fell into the field, igniting it."

Additional firefighters were called in from the Purdy, Butterfield, Cassville and Stotts City departments once the fight got into the trees. The Department of Conservation was called for earthmoving equipment. Jones said he had to prove updates to the Highway Patrol, which was passing information on to Governor Jay Nixon.

Eyewitnesses described how embers from the trees twice jumped across Highway W, a mile to the east of where the fire started. Jones said nearby firemen were able to stop the new fires quickly.

The bulldozer from the Department of Conservation waded into the trees to establish a fire line. Jones said cutting an area where the fire could be stopped proved difficult because of the dead trees on the ground, knocked over by the tornado that passed through Freistatt several years ago. The dozer worked as trees burned around it, Jones said.

Jones credited sheer manpower with turning the tide in the battle.

The number of firemen on the scene and the brush trucks from multiple departments proved pivotal in turning the tide of the fight. Jones said the supply of water proved adequate, using the 6,000-gallon tanker from Aurora Rural, tankers from Monett Rural and Pierce City Rural, and two tankers from Freistatt. Tankers still had to be shuttled back to Monett and Freistatt to refill.

Monett firemen returned to their stations at 10:35 p.m. Freistatt firemen remained on site through the night watching for flare-ups. Jones reviewed details of the fire with the Department of Conservation on Wednesday.

"The last time I remember conditions like this was in the early 1980s," Jones said. "It was extremely dry and we ran every day. A lot of departments have upgraded since then, have better equipment and more people, making it better today."

Dry conditions remain a serious threat.

"You don't want to have any kind of a spark, from welding, cigarettes or burning," Jones said. "Just don't do it. It's not worth what everyone else is going to lose. Think about it before you do it. It's just too hot and too dry."

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