Blaze consumed more than 1,700 acres of grass, trees
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — There were no injuries and no damage to government property, but a huge natural-cover fire consumed more than 1,700 acres of grass and trees March 31 in and around Range 19.
Firefighters determined tracer rounds fired on the range sparked the blaze.
According to an incident report from the Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department, personnel battled the blaze for more than 12 hours after getting the call at about 10:30 a.m. Crews with the department’s Squad 1782 and Brush 1772 were first on scene, where they found 2 acres on fire near the range’s Dud Impact Area, which hampered efforts.
“(That is) where unexploded ordnance may be present,” Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department Chief Brad Bowling explained. “There is no one allowed in there for safety reasons. When we have fires in there, we have to wait and see where it goes.”
Attempts to contain the fire were further complicated by dry conditions, high winds and plenty of available fuel in the form of storm-damaged trees, according to the report.
Led by Bowling, Duty Assistant Chief of Operations Guy Johnson, Assistant Chief of Training Troy Michaels and others, crews began back-burning operations southeast of the blaze on Ranges 20, 21 and 22, then had to change locations when shifting winds pushed the blaze north into Range 18A. With additional controlled burns along portions of FLW R and FLW RA, firefighters were able to contain the fire. Department personnel continued to monitor the area into the morning hours of April 1 to make sure the fire remained suppressed.
“In fires of this nature, we can’t just put them out with water like a structure, so we will intentionally start fires to burn the fuels in front of a wildfire,” Bowling said. “This essentially creates a roadblock that the encroaching fire will not be able to get past, since there is no fuel. We were trying to burn all the way around the fire.”
Although the Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department routinely fights natural-cover fires, they recently had practice while assisting the Lebanon Rural Fire Department in a large blaze March 9 in Laclede County, Bowling said. That fire involved 10 area departments and resulted in the loss of the Lebanon department’s new brush truck.
“Luckily, they were able to get out of the vehicle, and none of them were injured,” Bowling said.
As for the Range 19 fire, Bowling said the department’s mutual-aid agreements, as well as having its new Fire Station No. 3 in place, helped ensure the rest of Fort Leonard Wood remained covered during the 12-hour operation and the monitoring that followed.
“We were able to keep Engine 1753, which is housed at Station No. 3, available, and they covered all the calls on the installation while we were committed to this fire,” Bowling said. “We also were in communication with Waynesville Rural Fire Protection District and St. Robert City Fire, and they were ready to provide mutual-aid assistance if needed. Again, the great working relationships we have built through our mutual-aid agreements have proven themselves valuable again and again. This just shows it’s not always a case of us helping them — when something big happens, we need their assistance, as well.”