Twain forest blaze in SE Mo. partially contained

KANSAS CITY (AP) — Firefighters were spending the weekend mopping up around the perimeter of a partially contained blaze that has burned up to 600 acres of the Mark Twain National Forest.

The fire is the largest burning in the state as soaring temperatures and a lack of rain create dangerous conditions.

The Mark Twain forest fire started Thursday morning as “two little spots along the side of the road” and quickly spread throughout southeast Missouri’s Iron County, said Jody Eberly, the fire management officer for the 1.5-million acre forest.

Helicopters have dumped water from overhead and ambulances have been on standby, prepared to provide IV fluids if firefighters collapse in the triple-digit heat.

Eberly said crews used bulldozers to plow the earth bare, creating containment lines Friday that held into Saturday.

Gov. Jay Nixon flew over the burned land Saturday in Iron County. He said dozens of communities across the state have reported fires in the past couple days. He, Eberly and others worried the state could face a long summer of battling fires.

“It is very dry, and the fire behavior that we are seeing is very extreme and erratic,” Eberly said. “This fire was one that was exhibiting things that we usually only see out west. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the summer.”

Eberly said fires in Missouri normally stay low to the ground, burning the leaf litter. But the Mark Twin blaze was sending flames shooting 50 to 70 feet in the air.

“We had fire burning in the tops of trees,” she said. “That almost never happens in Missouri. It’s very frightening.”

Nixon said he had a chance to talk to the firefighters and they “were all really taken aback by seeing that.”

“We are also looking at getting some additional training for our National Guard firefighters. It’s a different kind of firefighting,” the governor said.

Besides the Mark Twain fire, a grass fire in Howell County burned an eight-mile path before it was brought under control. Nixon said there also have been brush, grass or hay fires in the following counties: Butler, Camden, Christian, Cooper, Crawford, Dallas, Dunklin, Gentry, Greene, Henry, Howell, Laclede, Lafayette, Lawrence, Lewis, Lincoln, Osage, Phelps, Ralls, Randolph, St. Francois, Warren and Webster.

“There is a lot of activity out there,” Nixon said. “If you look at the weather reports for the next week, and couple that with the Fourth of July holiday coming up next week, it’s got a chance to be very problematic. Consequently, we wanted to get out here today to say, ‘The state stands ready to assist however it can. We are going to bring the assets to bear to fight these fires.”’

He urged people not to throw down cigarettes and to delay shooting off fireworks.

“You can wait a few weeks until it rains,” he said.

Meanwhile, extra fire crews are on duty to respond quickly if other fires break out during the Fourth of July festivities.

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