Five Ozark County fire departments respond to fires on Glade Top Trail
Five Ozark County volunteer fire departments, along with a fire crew and bulldozer from the U.S. Forest service, battled multiple fires Sunday along the Glade Top Trail near the Ozark-Taney county line.
Mark Twain National Forest public affairs officer Cody Norris said the fires burned approximately 25 acres in the Caney Hollow area of the national forest, and although the agency’s official statement is that the fires are “under investigation,” at least two Ozark County fire chiefs who worked the fires said they have no doubt that they were deliberately started.
Theodosia Area VFD chief Tim Jeffery said seven different fires had been set on both sides of County Road 917. “We jumped from one fire to the other, back and forth. One would get calmed down, and we’d jump to another one,” Jeffery said. His department responded with a 2,000-gallon tanker and a brush truck. They were toned out at 8:25 a.m. and Jeffery said he finally got home about 6 p.m. after having to return to the scene late Sunday afternoon when one of the fires rekindled.
Pontiac Price Place VFD chief Al Davidson said his department was called out at 9:20 a.m.; five personnel responded with a 2,500-gallon tanker, a brush truck and a private vehicle. They had a 35- to 40-mile drive to reach the site, he said.
He agreed with Jeffery that the fires had been deliberately set. “Seven or eight fires spaced maybe 200 yards to a quarter-mile apart on opposite sides of the road – no way that happens naturally. If you ask me, it was absolutely arson,” Davidson said.
Wasola, Thornfield and Timber Knob fire departments also responded to the fires, along with Ozark County Search and Rescue team members. Ozark County emergency manager Brett Meints and his wife, Jaime, who both serve with Thornfield VFD, were also on scene. Meints worked in the firefighting command center.
He agreed with those who said the fires were deliberately set. “The general consensus was that someone in the middle of the night thought it would be funny to start a bunch of little fires,” he said. “When we got there, the weather forecasts were saying the wind would pick up, so I called for mutual aid. There was no good, direct route to get there, and I thought they needed to get more people started sooner rather than later.”
Although the fires mostly stayed on the ground, burning fallen debris and ground clutter, they were still a challenge to the firefighters, Davidson said. “The problem was, the fires were back in the woods, and we couldn’t get the fire hoses back there. At the first fire, probably 5 or 6 acres, we teamed up with Theodosia to hit some heavy brush that was burning. We have a high-pressure, low-volume pump, and we put an additive in the water that acts a little like foam. It makes the water wetter. That hose is small, almost like a garden hose, and two of our firefighters and two from Theodosia or Thornfield stretched 250 feet of it to get back to where the heaviest fire was.”
Davidson said because it was so hard to get regular fire hoses to fires in the woods, most of the firefighting work “had to be done with rakes and backpack blowers. You cut a trail down to bare dirt, and the fire runs out of fuel,” he said.
Firefighters also used chain saws to cut down a few of the bigger trees that seemed vulnerable to catching fire. “When the wind gets hold of fire in the trees, that’s when we end up with it spreading. As long as it stays in the mulch, you can keep control of it,”
Fighting fires in those conditions is hard work “when you’re humping up and down those hills and carrying a 20- or 30-pound backpack,” said Davidson, who has COPD.
“And you can’t completely put out that kind of fire because there are always snags or logs that burn and smolder for a long time,” he said.
That’s what caused Theodosia Area VFD to be called back after everyone else had left the scene Sunday afternoon, he said.
Because the fire mostly burned ground clutter, the famous autumn view from the popular Glade Top Trail won’t be impacted, Davidson said. “The big trees weren’t damaged,” he said. “You can still look out over the area, and it’s beautiful. If we get some rain, you won’t know where the fires were.”
It’s a lucky thing the fires didn’t happen Monday, when 30 mph winds swept across the area, Davidson said. “With the dry conditions we’ve got now, it could have been a whole different story.”