HAZARD — Last week, the skies of Perry County were blackened with smoke from forest fires. The Division of Forestry and local fire departments worked around the clock to protect homes, businesses and wildlife from devastation. The flames were so brazen, firefighters from Letcher County were called across the border to lend a helping hand.
So far this year, 323 forest fires have been reported in Kentucky, with the bulk of them occurring in the Appalachian Mountains. The state averages 1,447 forest fires per year. Right now, Kentucky is on pace to exceed the average in 2016. Approximately 8,409 acres of land have been scorched as of March 27. Of the reported fires, 224 have been attributed to arson.
The Spring Forest Fire Season is Feb. 15 through April 30. The Fall Forest Fire Season runs Oct. 1 through Dec. 15. During these times, it is illegal to start a fire between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. or within 150 feet of any woodland or brushland at any time of the day. The penalties for starting a forest fire include a fine of not less than $1,000 or more than $10,000, imprisonment for not more than five years, or both the fine and imprisonment.
Last week’s forest fires in Perry County threatened homes and there was also a report of a blaze spreading close to a tire business, where used tires were stored on the lot. Had those tires caught fire they would have burned for a long period of time, releasing toxins into the air all the while. Children with asthma and elderly people on oxygen face great health risks during forest fires that could be fatal. Thanks to the hard work of the Division of Forestry and local firefighters, last week’s forest fires did not produce any major damage to infrastructure. The forests, however, received extensive damage, which will take nature years to repair.
Perry County Emergency Management lists 10 fire departments in Perry County. All of them remain on call 24 hours a day. The Division of Forestry estimates that almost all of last week’s forest fires in Perry County were due to arson and accidental fires caused by the burning of debris. The telephone number to report arson is 1-800-27-Arson.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.