BRIDGETON, Mo. (AP) _ It's still a long way off, but a proposed $1 billion airport expansion at St. Louis' Lambert Field has generated plenty of immediate anger - and even an effigy burning - from people whose houses are in the way.

''They're going to have to drag everybody out of here kicking and screaming,'' homeowner Nancy Watkins said. ''I just don't think the city knows what it's up against.''

Watkins was one of several hundred residents of the bedroom community of Bridgeton who gathered on a ballfield Thursday night for a rally and bonfire, where St. Louis Mayor Vincent Schoemehl was burned in effigy. Organizers passed out ''Schoem-Mallows'' - actually, marshmallows - to roast over the flames and led the protesters in a rendition of ''God Bless America.''

The expansion plan, approved Thursday by the St. Louis Airport Commission, calls for building three new runways. It would require the government to move families out of 900 homes to make way for runways and ''noise corridors'' under the airliners' flightpath, said Mark Conway, vice president of the firm that devised the plan.

The plan was chosen after years of study, 27 possible growth outlines and a storm of protest against each one.

The Federal Aviation Administration must still approve the expansion, and it will be subject to a two-year environmental study. The airport and the city also still must find a way to finance the $1 billion project.

The government also must contend with a group known as Bridgeton Air Defense, or BAD. Besides the protest, BAD members have tied hundreds of yellow ribbons on trees, utility poles and signs throughout the community.

''I have one question for Mayor Schoemehl,'' said Jayne Bohler, a Bridgeton resident for 19 years. ''Where can I move and not have my house taken away from me? Where is it safe?''

''There is no difference here from what they're doing in communist countries,'' said her neighbor, Barbara Apple.

Lambert is the seventh-busiest airport in the nation and is one of a number of big airports in the country that have reached capacity or are looking at expansion. Lambert is in St. Louis County but owned by the city of St. Louis. ''No matter what we do, it's going to be traumatic for some people,'' Airport Director Donald W. Bennett said earlier Thursday. ''And we tried to minimize that.''

Some residents argue that planners should have given more thought to building a new airport in a less populated area.