Wildfires Destroy Much of Missouri Town, Threaten Homes in Iowa and Nebraska

October 25, 2022

WOOLDRIDGE, Mo. (AP) — Roughly half of a small Missouri town burned Saturday after a wildfire spread quickly from a farm field and destroyed or heavily damaged 23 buildings, officials said.

Prairie fires also erupted in Nebraska and Iowa over the weekend, destroying homes and forcing evacuations.

No one died in the Missouri fire and only one person was taken to a hospital for an injury that was not life-threatening, but the entire town of Wooldridge had to be evacuated Saturday because of the fire. The blaze was sparked in a field by a combine that was harvesting crops. A nearby stretch of Interstate 70 had to be closed for nearly two hours Saturday evening because of heavy smoke.

Cooper County Fire District spokesman Jim Gann said Sunday that between 4.6 and 5.4 square miles burned before the fire was brought under control. Firefighters were working Sunday to keep hot spots under control with strong winds forecast in the afternoon.

Wooldridge is a town of less than 100 people about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Columbia along the Missouri River. Stephen Derendinger, an engineer with the Jamestown Rural Fire Protection District, said half the town is burnt.

“It’s devastated,” Derendinger said.

Firefighters saved the Wooldridge Baptist Church, Wooldridge Community Club and post office as they pumped water from swimming pools to help battle the blaze.

Elsewhere in Missouri Sunday, some Kansas City area residents were being urged to evacuate because of a grass fire near Interstate 470 and Raytown Road between Raytown and Lee’s Summit.

Kansas City Police spokeswoman Officer Donna Drake said police were called to the area around 11 a.m. Sunday and started knocking on doors to let residents know about the fire. Drake said the blaze started as a mulch fire at a business before spreading quickly toward a neighborhood.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol shut down Interstate 470 in the area Sunday afternoon for a couple hours because visibility was poor and fire had spread to both sides of the highway.

High winds and dry conditions helped the fire spread quickly. Kansas City Fire Chief Donna Lake said the fire began on the south side of I-470 before the wind carried embers from the initial fire over the highway and started a second fire in a wooded area north of the highway.

Lake said fire crews had to battle fires in two locations.

Drought conditions are common across Missouri and the National Weather Service warned about high winds in the northwest corner of the state Sunday, creating conditions ideal for wildfires to spread.

Those tinder-dry conditions extended into eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, where prairie fires pushed by tinder-dry conditions and winds topping 60 mph (96 kph) led to evacuations in eastern and destroyed homes and injured two firefighters south of Nebraska’s capital city of Lincoln, officials said.

At least two grassland fires were first reported Sunday afternoon south of Lincoln and spread quickly as winds began to pick up and push the fires north, the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office reported.

The nearly 300 residents of Hallam, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Lincoln, were ordered to evacuate their homes, and rural residents of southern Lancaster County and northern Gage County were urged to evacuate because of the fires.

Officials also asked farmers to turn on irrigation pivots or other water sources to help combat the fires, which were contained by Sunday evening, with the help of rain showers that moved into the area. Officials said three homes and several outbuildings were destroyed in Lancaster County.

Two firefighters also were injured, one seriously. Officials had not released their names or updated their medical conditions by early Monday morning.

In southwestern Lancaster County, residents made plans to move cattle and other valuables to Christopher Smith’s farm south of the fires.

“Everybody’s just trying to help out,” Smith said. Meanwhile, one farm’s owner worked to spray down the home’s back porch with water and set up sprinklers in case the fire got close.

Fires near Wisner in northeastern Nebraska and Harrison and Montgomery counties in western Iowa also forced brief evacuations, but there were no reports of injuries or homes damaged there.

Rain moving across the region Monday with a cold front from the north was expected to help lower the risk of fires in the area.

About the photo: A burnt Ford truck sits on the south side of Main Street on Sunday Oct. 23, 2022, in Wooldridge, Mo. Roughly half of the small Missouri town burned Saturday after a wildfire spread quickly from a farm field and destroyed or heavily damaged multiple buildings, officials said. (Clayton Steward/Missourian via AP)

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