By Casey Nolen
Salem, MO (KSDK) - Calls and Facebook posts from residents around our area say they saw the smoke from a 5,000 acre fire burning in the Mark Twain National Forest.
The fire is south of Rolla near Salem, Missouri, and forest rangers suspect arson is the cause.
Rangers say the massive fire started as three smaller fires all around the same time on Tuesday , and it's too coincidental not to be arson.
There are other fires burning here near Salem, too. Rangers believe one of them started as what they consider an ill-advised controlled burn.
And two more fires were spotted Wednesday in an area they've yet to reach.
The conditions are dry and windy with warmer than normal temperatures.
The main fire they are fighting is as big as all the fires combined on an average year in the Mark Twain Forest.
Part of the problem in fighting the fire is what's on the ground. A couple of years ago a storm blew through and leveled trees across dozens of square miles. Those trees are now dry and not only fueling the fire, but making it hard for the fifty or so fire fighters to work this fire.
"You can see the haze and smell the smoke from this fire 30 miles and more to the east, near Sullivan and on in to Franklin County," said District Ranger Thomas Haines.
The hope now is for rain, but Rangers say what's in the forecast will only dampen this fire, not put it out.
There are about a half dozen homes within a mile of the fire, but for now rangers say they are safe.
Most of what is burning is recreational land in the National Forest.