By John L. Ross/Staff Writer
An early evening brush fire Friday south of Barbourville definitely could have been much worse, according to Tony Smith, forest ranger technician with the Kentucky Division of Forestry.
Smith said the call came in around 5:30 p.m. Friday night. Members of the East Knox Volunteer Fire Department were first to the blaze on Old Stinking Creek Road in front of an abandoned house next to Auto Glass.
“Whoever did this just walked off and left a burning brush pile,” Smith said. “It could have been a lot worse — it could have burnt the buildings here.”
Emergency firefighters with the Division of Forestry were on hand to watch for smoldering hot spots, and also cleared flammable underbrush to help prevent spreading.
While this fire did little damage, it is fire number 24 in Knox County alone since the fire season started Oct. 1, Smith said.
“The fall fire season runs from October 1 through December 15,” Smith said. “But for this entire year, this fire makes the 49th one for the year just in Knox County.”
And in most cases, Smith said arson was the cause.
“About 85 percent of these fires in this county were arson,” said Smith.
That includes Friday night’s blaze.
“(Fires like this) are included in arson,” he said. “You start one up and you leave it, it’s your baby.”
Smith said there are no indications at this time any of the blazes in Knox County or through this region are connected. “These fires have been random,” said Smith. “Part of it was the start of (deer) hunting season, which was the week before Thanksgiving.
“We got a lot more fires after that.”
He said investigators have suspects in the Corbin arson fire from last week, as well as the Whitley County arson fire that happened near Highway 904. The Whitley County fire scorched more than 300 acres near Alex Creek, Smith said.
Laurel County has had about 25-26 fires this year, Whitley County has had 41 and Bell and Clay counties have each had between 38-40 this year.
He said the high number of fires have kept crews busy and spread thin this year.
Smith said that despite the number of fires, there has been talk in the Kentucky State Legislature about cutting about 30 percent of the Division’s employees. Right now, he said the division he’s with covers 10 counties in southeastern Kentucky. That coverage comes with 11 rangers, two district rangers, one forester serviceman, one chief forester, and 12 8-member firefighting crews.
“It’s going to make a big problem — a huge problem — with fire fighting,” he said.