Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 13, 2014

Harsh winter has increased the likelihood of forest fires

The Independent

ASHLAND — Here’s an increased hazard resulting from the harsh winter of 2013-14 that does not come immediately to mind for most of us: forest fires

The Kentucky Division of Forestry in Hazard says  more than 5,000 acres have been damaged by forest and brush fires in eastern Kentucky this year. State officials say 653 acres were burned over the weekend in 44 different fires.

Officials say fires are burning harder and faster this winter because it’s been so cold. They say the freeze pulled all the moisture out of the ground.

Many of the fires were caused when people burning brush allowed the blaze to get out of control.

“They thought because of the wetness we’ve had this winter, the fire wouldn’t escape, but the reality is the sun is hitting it now. We’ve got constant breeze, low humidity and it lets the fire escape,” Bell County Forest Ranger Lem Johnson said.

Some of the more than 200 blazes have been caused by arson.

Since it is “fire season,” officials remind Kentuckians it is illegal to burn between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Anyone with information about arson fires is asked to call the arson hotline at (800) 27-ARSON.

While most forest and brush fires may be ignited by individuals, we suspect the vast majority of so-called arsonists have no intention of burning hundreds of acres of forests. They simply are individuals who unintentionally let their fires get out of control. Let this be a warning to those who still burn off land in preparation for spring planting  that this year’s extraordinarily harsh winter has made burning outdoors even more hazardous than normal.