Local official warns against various types of burning during fire season

November 30, 2020 | 12:09 am

Updated November 30, 2020 | 7:46 pm

Photo by Nathan Seaton

Kentucky doesn’t draw national attention for forests engulfed in flames. But wildfires happen, and the risk is highest during the fall and spring. 

Between 2010 and 2019, the state recorded about 10,000 individual fires and more than 300,000 acres burned. 

“Kentucky is a huge rural area. A small fire can get out of hand very quickly,” said Steve Leonard, the fire prevention battalion chief at the Owensboro Fire Department. 

The amount of fires and acres burned varies annually. Last year, about 700 fires burned nearly 10,000 acres. In 2016, the Bluegrass lost more than 70,000 acres, according to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s annual summary

In the past decade, arson has accounted for nearly 65 percent of all fires. Debris burning caused about 22 percent of fires. Lightning, smoking, children and campfires each caused about a half-percent or less of all fires.   

“I think the misconception is that it’s not that big a deal to burn off a brush area,” Leonard said. “A small fire in a rural backyard can develop into a 100-acre fire quickly. That occurs fairly often in this area.” 

Accidental fires also occur when people leave fires unattended. This occurs when farmers cut down trees and brush and create pile fires that last for days — as well as the “casual” fire in an outdoor pit. 

“One little leaf spark can cause a real problem,” Leonard said. “You’re asking for problems if you leave a fire unattended.” 

People creating fires of any kind should also keep an extinguishing source nearby. Ultimately, whoever started a fire, whether intentional or not, is responsible for the fire and the sometimes $10,000-plus fines. (Burning illegal materials and violating state air quality regulations can result in fines of up to $25,000 per day, according to the cabinet.) 

There are occasionally brushland fires within Owensboro, but the majority occurs in the greater Daviess County. Both the City and County departments encounter wildland fires, which Leonard said are extremely hazardous for the firefighters due to rapid wind directional changes and spreading. 

“You can’t always just run away,” Leonard explained. “More firefighters are killed during wildfires than structural fires.”

The fall fire season lasts between October and mid-December, and the spring season lasts between mid-February and late April. Kentuckians are not allowed to start fires within 150 feet of woodland or brush between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. during this period. 

But people should always use caution and watch the weather throughout the year — not just during fire seasons. Dry soil, low humidity and high winds create ripe conditions for wildland fires. 

“Even when burn dates aren’t in effect, don’t burn on a windy day,” Leonard said. “There’s no fooling around with this. Fires jeopardize wildland and life.” 

Leonard suggested people might want to consider skipping brush or pit fires all together. Open burning produces harmful air pollution like fine particulates, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  

Citizens can report fires to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. 

November 30, 2020 | 12:09 am

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