Frequent fires followed by heavy rain throughout rural Pulaski County
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 6:35 am
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (March 24, 2009) — Severe weather kept area firefighters racing Saturday, Sunday, Monday and early Tuesday, but for very different reasons.
High winds whipped through much of the area for three consecutive days, followed by scattered rainfall on Monday night that became severe rains on Tuesday. By Monday, the wind became so strong that the Springfield office of the National Weather Service issued a “red flag warning” and the Pulaski County Fire Chiefs’ Association issued a countywide burn ban.
Waynesville Rural Fire Chief Doug Yurecko, who serves as the secretary of the fire chiefs’ association, said he realizes not everybody understands how serious fires can become when winds pick up speed.
“It’s so easy for a fire to get out of hand when there are 25 to 30 mph winds,” Yurecko said. “It looks like since Friday we had 15 calls. We have had some grass fires and couple of building calls and a truck fire on the interstate… (Monday) alone there have probably been eight or nine responses, maybe more, and that’s not counting the mutual aid out of the county.”
Pulaski County firefighters are often asked to help smaller fire districts outside the area, but so many fires broke out that on Monday the county chiefs’ association had to turn down a mutual aid request from Phelps County.
“We had already been tasked to send a unit to Laclede County and we were working a call in Hazelgreen’s jurisdiction and St. Robert had sent a crew to Rolla for coverage. We pretty much had a lot of stuff going on at the same time, and then Tri-County had a motor vehicle accident up on Highway 7 south of Richland,” Yurecko said.
The burn ban doesn’t have legal force except in the St. Robert city limits and the Waynesville Rural Fire Protection District, which includes not only the city of Waynesville but also most rural areas from Buckhorn to Devil’s Elbow north of Fort Leonard Wood and south of the Gasconade River. In those areas, anyone wanting to burn items must call the fire district for a burn permit before starting a fire, and firefighters won’t issue burn permits in dangerous conditions.
Burn bans aren’t always popular, but Yurecko said they’re needed.
“A lot of people think if we tell them to burn, we have no reason for it. If the weather is OK, we will tell them to burn, but we’ll also tell them if it’s not OK,” Yurecko said. “The biggest thing is if they are going to burn they should first notify their local fire district to see if it’s OK to burn, even if it is not a district that requires a burn permit. A lot of people don’t know if it safe to burn. We look at humidity; if we have low humidity and high winds, we tell people not to burn because it will get away from them.”
People burning trash, brush, or construction debris aren’t the only problems facing Pulaski County firefighters. Yurecko said one of the county’s worst fire hazards involves people who throw cigarettes out their car windows that land, still lit, in dry grass.
“We get a lot of fires where somebody throws smoking material out of the window, they don’t know they started a fire, but we get 20 or 30 acres on fire or someone’s house burns down,” Yurecko said.
Many of the weekend’s fires were likely due to smoking material, Yurecko said. That included one case where an abandoned log cabin burned down during the weekend, but no other buildings were lost due to fire.
The National Weather Service’s “red flag” warning indicating “extreme and hazardous fire conditions” was issued at 3:21 p.m. for 37 Missouri counties including Pulaski and all adjacent counties and expired at 10 p.m. Monday, but different weather problems struck the area Tuesday.
According to the Springfield office of the National Weather Service, strong to severe thunderstorms are expected to hit the 37-county region of the Missouri Ozarks, including Pulaski and all adjoining counties. Large hail, damaging winds and localized flash floods are all possible, beginning in Kansas during the early morning and reaching southern and central Missouri by the morning and early afternoon.
High winds are expected to continue with gusts possibly higher than 40 mph. More thunderstorms are possible again on Thursday and later in the week.