WEDNESDAY, MAY 2, 2018
Thanks to a keen eye and quick action the Fort Osage National Historic Landmark was saved from an out of control grass fire.
Laura King was working as the gift shop attendant in the Education Center and was the last associate onsite for the day. She was getting ready to lock up for the day on February 18, when she noticed a few wisps of grey smoke coming up the hill from the river bank. Thinking that was a bit odd she looked down over the hill and she noticed a small brush fire down by the Missouri River, north of the Fort and Education Center. She went inside immediately and called 911 to let them know of the fire.
Due to dry conditions and high-wind, the fire spread quickly and soon reached the fort with red flames as high as the first floor of Blockhouse Two. She called 911 back to let them know that the fire was approaching the historic buildings and education center, and that the Fort needed fire assistance as soon as possible. She hurried to unlock the main gate to allow first responders through to the Fort. Laura also went to the home of another associate who lives adjacent to the Fort, she asked for his help in unlocking as many areas as possible before the fire fighters arrived.
Laura called everyone in the chain of leadership to inform them of the fire. She then continued to provide information to the Parks + Rec director regarding the condition of the Fort, number of first responders and media on-site until leadership arrived.
Parks + Rec Director Michele Newman remembered when Laura called to fill her in on the fire and what was happening, “I said Laura where are you and she said well I’m in the education center. I said can you see fire around you and she said yeah I can the grass is on fire outside the education center. I said Laura get as far away from that education center as you can. Please go outside and get as far away from the building as you possibly can. Now I’m worried about Laura. I just want Laura to be safe.”
“Frankly it was Laura’s sound judgement and her jumping on as quickly as she could and getting those first responders here that I truly believe saved that fort that we all know and that we all love,” Newman said.
“Jackson County Parks + Rec is very thankful of her quick action and proud of Laura, a dedicated associate of Jackson County and its Historic Sites for the last 42 years,” Historic Site Administrator Jonathan Klusmeyer said.
The buildings in the fort only received minor damage from the fire.
Built under the direction of General William Clark, Fort Osage was established in 1808 as a military outpost in the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. The Fort’s purpose was to provide a military presence in the territory in order to assure Spain, France and Great Britain that the United States meant to protect its territory by military strength and to establish healthy relations with the Native American population in the territory. It was closed in 1827.
Jackson County purchased a 14-acre tract surrounding the fort’s location early in 1941 and was established as one of the earliest county parks. It was the first county park to be operated as an historic site. Reconstruction began in 1948 and was completed in 1961. It is intended to represent the fort as it was in 1812 with a factory building, officer’s quarters, five blockhouses, soldier’s huts, a blacksmith’s shop and a partial stockade.