Small Missouri Town ‘Devastated’ by Quickly Spreading Wildfire

by Taylor Cunningham
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Nearly half of Wooldridge, Missouri, burned on Saturday (Oct. 22) after drought conditions and high winds caused a farm field wildfire to quickly spread into residential areas.

The residents of the small town watched as the blaze consumed and then destroyed or heavily damaged 23 buildings, according to officials.

Luckily, no one died in the wildfire. One person did require medical attention, but their injuries were not life-threatening. All of Wooldridge was forced to evacuate, however. And everyone was in some way affected by the flames.

The Associated Press reports that a combine sparked the flames while harvesting crops. It quickly spread due to 25 to 35 mph winds and low humidity, according to a press release from Woolridge Fire.

More than a dozen fire departments responded to the scene. Some assisted with evacuation efforts while others worked to extinguish the blaze. Thanks to an abundance of dry vegetation, somewhere between 4.6 and 5.4 square miles burned before firefighters were able to contain the fire.

Drought Conditions Caused Multiple Missouri Wildfires Over the Weekend

In the midst of the battle, officials had to close a portion of Interstate 70 for around two hours because of heavy smoke. And it wasn’t until Sunday morning that crews got the situation under control.

The town, which is home to only about 100 people, sits along the Missouri River and is about 20 miles west of Columbia.

“It’s devastated,” Stephen Derendinger, an engineer with the Jamestown Rural Fire Protection District, said of Wooldridge.

The department noted that firefighters were able to save three popular buildings, the post office, Wooldridge Community Club, and the Wooldridge Baptist Church by pumping water out of swimming pools.

Droughts are common in MO, and ahead of the incident, the National Weather Service warned that the high winds and dry brush made wildfires a threat on Sunday.

This proved true once again when parts of Kansas City had to evacuate because of a grass fire that spread along Interstate 470 between Raytown and Lee’s Summit.

Kansas City Police spokeswoman Officer Donna Drake shared that police responded to the emergency around 11 am Sunday and knocked on doors to tell people about the situation. Drake said that the flames began in a pile of mulch and quickly spread into the grass and toward a neighborhood.

Embers then jumped across Interstate 470 and ignited a second fire in a wooded area. Poor visibility lead the Missouri State Highway Patrol to close sections of the interstate as firefighters worked to contain the wildfire.