WOOLDRIDGE – Over 50 agencies responded to a fire in the small village of Wooldridge in Cooper County over the weekend. On Sunday, families in the area returned to see what was left of their homes and property.
William Knox returned to his Wooldridge home early Sunday afternoon after evacuating the night before. He said he didn’t even want to turn around to look at it during the interview.
“It was our first home and everything we’ve built up so far and worked towards,” said Knox. “It is what it is, I guess.”
Knox’s family members were there with him Sunday. His step-dad said he never expected something like this to happen.
Some families found shelter at a nearby local church where they are able to stay for the time being.
The Mccombs were one of several families to lose their homes in the fire. They were not home when it happened. Instead, they found out when a family friend reached out to see if they were okay.
The family of five lost one dog due to the fire. The Mccombs have a background in helping children with disabilities with animals. They had six dogs, four goats, three chickens, one duck, and four pigeons.
“All of this can be acquired again. It’s stuff, but I just prayed that none of my animals suffered,” Jessica said in tears.
The family bought the property off of Main Street in Wooldridge in 2019. Since then, the family has been building it from the ground up, remodeling it, and making it their own.
The family is not sure what their next steps are.
“We are going to see how the chips fall. We gotta deal with the insurance and the clean-up. I literally have never been in a fire, so I don’t know,” Emmanuel said.
For now, the family has found somewhere to stay in Booneville.
“We are lucky because last night we had somewhere to go. Tonight, I have somewhere to go, and the next day, I’m still going to have somewhere to go,” Jessica said. “And I am confident to know that we will be okay.”
As of Sunday morning, about 20 structures in Wooldridge had burned down in the fire including homes and outhouses. Fire and police departments in Cooper County continued to help Sunday after initially responding to the fire Saturday afternoon.
“I think we were all surprised at how fast this fire was moving,” said James Gann, the spokesperson for Cooper County Fire Protection District. “It covered about four and a half miles in a very short period of time.”
Gann said when fire crews arrived, several structures in Wooldridge were already on fire. He said fire fighters attempted to suppress the fire at first, but it grew so rapidly that Cooper County Sheriff’s deputies and fire fighters started to evacuate the immediate area.
Gann said the high humidity and wind conditions made the situation ideal for a fire to happen.
“The severity of the situation was self evident for just about everyone that was there,” said Gann.
He said the fire started south of Wooldridge and spread northward to I-70. The smoke from the fire caused reduced visibility on the interstate leading officials to close the highway in both directions for nearly two directions.
An investigation is ongoing into what caused the fire. A deputy told KOMU 8’s partners at the Columbia Missourian the fire began after a combine ignited a field it was harvesting.
Gann said the fire quickly overcame the equipment and manpower of the Cooper County Fire District so nearby fire departments arrived to provide assistance. Once mutual aid was activated, over 50 agencies arrived on scene.
Gann said community members are still organizing support for families affected by the fire.
This is just one of many fires that have occurred across mid-Missouri in the past few days. Gann said the danger of a fire will persist as long as the dry conditions remain.