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Community works to assess and rebuild after devastating fire

<i>KOMU</i><br/>The fire burned more than 3
The fire burned more than 3

By Avery Everett

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    WOOLDRIDGE, Missouri (KOMU) — The Cooper County community assessed damage Monday and made a plan to move forward after a devastating fire burned more than 3,000 acres and left 23 structures severely damaged or destroyed Saturday.

The Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) surveyed Wooldridge with Mayor Kelly Murphy Monday afternoon as families sorted through the rumble of their remaining homes.

“It’s not good,” Murphy said. “They don’t have a home. They’ve lost everything. They’re trying to find places to stay. They’re living in temporary houses right now.”

The Red Cross opened an overnight shelter for those displaced because of the fire at the Open Bible Praise Church in Boonville. Four people stayed overnight on Saturday and just one over Sunday night. The shelter closed Monday morning.

Alexis Nixon lives up on the hill of Wooldridge. While her house was not affected during the fire, she spent most of her day Monday working with surveyors to come up with a recovery plan for the church.

“The fact that you can look and look all the way down to the river bottoms now and see through to the train tracks, you couldn’t do that before. There were buildings in the way,” Nixon said.

In the bottoms of Wooldridge, the only building that looked to be untouched by fire was the post office. Nixon said she heard fire crews shouting to “protect the post office” on Saturday while the fire was spreading. The post office is currently closed due to reconstruction, but postmaster David Giles said it was a miracle walking through the town and seeing the building still standing.

“It’s certainly miraculous,” Giles said. “I have great sympathy for my neighbors. We’re all scratching to make a living.”

But not everyone in Wooldridge faired so lucky. For most, the fire took everything. The McComb family spent Monday afternoon building crosses and burial sites for their animals that died in the fire.

Cooper County Fire District spokesman Jim Gann said the Missouri Department of Conservation worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Monday to do further fire line construction and controlled fires in the Big Muddy Wildlife Refuge area.

Gann said the fire district is continuing to compile information needed to write an incident report, as well as consult with staff and other agencies to determine an official cause. KOMU 8’s partners at the Columbia Missourian reported the fire started after a combine ignited a field it was harvesting.

Murphy said donations can be sent through a local GoFundMe.

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