By Wally Kennedy
DIAMOND, Mo. —
Ron Callis extended the garden hose to the road in front of his brother-in-law’s house Saturday afternoon in a last-ditch effort to protect it from a wildfire that had just blackened the Pine Flats Christmas Tree Farm.
“It was roaring down through there, jumping from treetop to treetop,’’ he said. “It was unbelievable.’’
His wife, Melissa, used the garden hose to fill plastic buckets and trash cans with water. Friends of the family and volunteers stood at the ready as they watched the fire creep across an open field north of them.
The fire, spread by light winds from the east, suddenly shifted to the south. The wind was pushing the fire toward Ron Cameron’s farmhouse at Nighthawk and Beech roads. Another house west of the Cameron home on Beech Road was threatened, too.
As locusts swarmed across the road in front of the fire, the wind whipped up a whirlwind of fire and ash that roared across the field toward the house.
“It’s going to jump the road!’’ yelled Ron Callis, as the volunteers grabbed the buckets and used wet clothing to beat back the fire.
They were aided by volunteer firefighters — both men and women — who were using off-road vehicles specifically designed to battle brush fires. Also fighting the fire was a farmer on a tractor who was pulling a portable tanker filled with water.
The Cameron farmhouse was spared, but the threat continued as the fire spread upwind from the farmhouse.
“They want to let the fire burn to the road. I just wish they would put it out,’’ Ron Callis said.
The fire scorched hundreds of acres Saturday afternoon northwest of Diamond, threatening several rural farms, outbuildings and livestock.
Firefighters from Seneca, Diamond, Duenweg, Neosho, Carthage and Redings Mill were among the departments that responded to the blaze. Representatives of the American Red Cross handed out bottled water to the firefighters.
A representative of the Diamond Area Fire Protection District could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Missouri Highway 59, north of Diamond, was kept open to vehicles, though a wall of flames could clearly be seen to the west of the road. Troopers with the Missouri State Highway Patrol kept roads open for emergency vehicles, but blocked sightseers from getting close to the fire.
Several smaller roads, such as Aspen Road and Carver Road, were closed to all vehicles except fire personnel for most of the afternoon, Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland said. Those roads were beginning to be reopened by 5 p.m., he said.
Copeland said some structures had been damaged by the blaze, but he didn’t know how many or to what extent.
He said fire crews thought the fire was a rekindling of a blaze that local departments have been battling for days. A blaze first reported Thursday morning quickly scorched 300 acres of pasture near Highway 59 and Aspen Road, north of Diamond, and destroyed two outbuildings and 700 large bales of hay.
Staff writer Emily Younker contributed to this report.