A Red Flag Warning is in effect for most of Mid-Missouri until 7:00 p.m. Monday.
That means current weather conditions have the potential to make outdoor fires spread much faster.
Columbia firefighters responded to at least three reports of outside fires Monday.
One happened behind Lange Middle School around 12:30 p.m. Some dry mulch in the back of a truck caught on fire and high winds quickly spread it across the property, according to firefighters.
The National Weather Service issues a Red Flag Warning when there is low humidity, strong winds and a lack of moisture and other vegetation. Those three conditions increase the danger of outdoor fires, according to Battalion Chief Gale Blomenkamp with the Boone County Fire Protection District.
“When we’re looking at red flag warnings, even the improper discarding of a cigarette can cause a fire,” Blomenkamp said. “So what that red flag warning means is that in the event of a natural cover fire, the fire behavior can be erratic and extreme and it can also grow very very quickly.”
Since October 1, Columbia and Boone County firefighters have responded to nearly 40 outside fires. Boone County has responded to about 10 a week, which is more than usual.
“It is a little out of the ordinary for it to be happening right now in October,” Blomenkamp said. “Typically we have more moisture in July and August than what we’ve seen. But we started out very very wet, so had good growth. We got a lot of natural vegetation that grew very well in the spring and summertime. And so that exacerbates the problem a little bit more because we have more stuff on the ground to burn.”
Firefighters are prepared for fast-moving fire during the Red Flag Warning, Blomenkamp said. An additional brush truck is sent to every outdoor fire report.
“We would strongly encourage nobody to do any open burning today, whether it’s burning in their trash or any prescribed burns,” Blomenkamp said. “Be very cautious when discarding cigarettes or discarding matches or anything like that. And so if people have things to burn, today’s not the day to do that.”
Columbia fire officials said they are not sure what started the fire behind Lange Middle School. But with the dry conditions, they say it could have been something as little as a discarded cigarette.