Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 4, 2012

It's fire season

Spring storms, arid summer increase the need for caution

The Independent

ASHLAND — The fall forest fire season began Monday, and area residents have added reason to obey the law restricting outdoor burning during the season that continues until Dec. 15 and to listen to and heed the advice of the experts at the Kentucky Division of Forestry.

It has been an extremely hot and dry summer, making forest lands even more primed for fires than usual. In addition, the strong spring storms and tornadoes that ripped through the region brought down numerous trees and limbs that have left Kentucky’s forests littered with fuel for wildfires.

Kentucky’s chief forester, Leah MacSwords, said the accumulation of storm-damaged trees and smaller tinder that died as a result of drought will lead to an “active” fire season and pose dangers for firefighters.

MacSwords urged Kentuckians to take extra precautions with campfires. She also called for them to keep on the lookout for forest arson, the major cause of wildfires in Kentucky. In fact, the Division of Forestry reports that of the 723 forestland and brushland fires recorded in Kentucky through Sept. 25 of this year,  448 — or just less than 62 percent — were set by arsonists.  Unfortunately, that is nothing new. Arson has long been the major cause of forest fires in the state.

During the fall fire season, it is illegal to burn anything  within 150 feet of a woodland or brushland between the mostly daylight hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. But because of the volatile condition of the forestlands, the Division of Forestry recommends individuals go beyond just obeying the law by using good common sense and sound judgment while dealing with potential sources of fire when outdoors.

Their recommendations include:

--Avoid burning anything during fire hazard alerts and during times of dry, windy conditions.

--Extinguish all fires completely.  Never leave a fire unattended and always extinguish fires if conditions become too windy. 

--Allow hot ashes from woodstoves and fireplaces to cool before disposing outdoors. 

--Extinguish smoking materials properly.  Put out cigarettes, cigars or pipes only in cleared areas free of vegetation or flammable material. A burning cigarette  carelessly tossed from a vehicle can easily start a roadside fire that can quickly spread.

--Avoid parking cars, trucks or recreational vehicles on dry vegetation. The exhaust system on a vehicle can reach a temperature of more than 1,000 degrees, which is hot enough to start a wildfire.

Rain that fell throughout the region from Sunday afternoon through mid-morning Monday greatly reduced the risk of fire during the opening days of this fire season, but while Mother Nature is the best defense against forest fires, she is not always dependable. Be smart when working outside. Following the above recommendations can greatly reduced the odds of a fire occurring. 

And should you suspect or witness someone setting a fire, call the nearest Kentucky State Police post or call the Target Arson Hotline at (800) 27-ARSON. More arrests and convictions for setting forest and brush fires is the best way of reducing the unacceptably high rate of arson.

Forest and brush fires not only put black marks on nature’s beauty, they also increase air pollution and make it that much more difficult for those with respiratory problems to breathe. We have no sympathy for those who intentionally set the fires.