WOOLDRIDGE, Mo. (KMIZ)
Sunday marks one year since the small Cooper County community of Wooldridge was burned by a wildfire.
The fire scorched over 3,000 acres and at least 23 buildings after a combine ignited the blaze. fueled by drought conditions.
No human life was lost, but 10 families were displaced and some animals perished.
One year later, first responders have evaluated what happened and what changes could be made for future disasters.
Cooper County Fire Protection District Fire Chief David Gehm says the winds were blowing at least 40 miles an hour, causing the fire to spread quickly and prompting immediate evacuations.
Gehm says within minutes of crews arriving on scene most of the homes in downtown Wooldridge were engulfed in flames. As the dynamics of the fire were changing, the fire was difficult to get under control, so firefighters knew they needed to call for more help.
"In the first 30 to 40 minutes we toned about 13 additional departments in the surrounding communities for assistance and within an hour and a half of the fire starting we asked for statewide mutual aid," Gehm said.
VIDEO: Scenes from one year ago and today
Gehm said more than 60 departments and over 125 firefighters responded to the scene. The fire challenged them.
Larry Oerly, director of the Cooper County Emergency Management Agency, said communication was difficult due to being in a rural area.
"Due to a lack of communication when we were fighting the fire down in Wooldridge I wasn't aware it had jumped a levy and was already burning down levy towards the bridge down here," Gehm says.
Oerly said that before the fire a $2 million project was in the works to improve radio and 911 communication. It's still going this day.
After evaluating, Gehm says crews should have called for mutual aid sooner than they did after seeing how fast winds were causing the fire to progress.
That is another change the Wooldridge fire brought to light.
Starting next year, there will be a new way for smaller departments to get extra help from other departments. Cooper County has now established automatic mutual aid, Gehm said. Firefighters will no longer need to request help themselves -- dispatchers will do it for them based on the conditions.
Another challenge crews faced was tall, dry grass making it difficult for firefighters to get equipment into the Wooldridge bottoms.
"They brought bulldozers in and made fire lines to try to stop the fire," Gehm said. "Fish and Wildlife was here and they had some six-wheelers, four-wheelers, ATVs, UTVs, and they were supplying them with water and we were just walking down levees on foot because it was hard for us to get to the fire as it got to the bottoms."
No firefighters were hurt while battling the Wooldridge fire.
Look for more on "The Wooldridge Fire: One Year Later" Sunday on ABC 17 News at 10 on KMIZ.