By John L. Ross
Fire — once it begins, it transforms itself into a living, breathing creature of destruction.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a grassy field, a grove of trees or a populated neighborhood – fire will consume whatever is in its path.
And during the two annual fire seasons, the danger of fire jumps.
The spring Forest Fire Hazard Season, set by Kentucky law, began Feb. 15 and will end April 30. These are the standing dates for the annual spring fire season, which were set in 2003.
“Wildfire is an extremely dangerous situation that doesn’t have to happen,” said Leah MacSwords, Division of Forestry director. “Kentuckians have lived with wildfires for so long that people think they are a natural occurrence, but nothing can be further from the truth.
“Deliberate or careless acts by people lead to wildfires,” MacSwords continued. “The largest two causes by far being arson and burning of trash and debris.”
Many of the Tri-County’s brush and wild fires have been caused by arson – which is not just dumping gas in the middle of the floor and setting it ablaze.
Any fire set, whether to burn leaves, trash or accidentally by a lit cigarette – if it gets out of control, its considered arson.
“Most of the time, people need to use their head,” said Rick Fore, chief of the Woodbine Fire Department.
While the current season prohibits burning during the hours of 6 a.m.-6 p.m., Fore said burning after 6 at night is still allowed. “Of course, it does depend on how dry it is and how much wind is blowing,” Fore said.
So far this season, Fore said his department has contained “a couple of grass fires.”
“You have to be cautious when it comes to a controlled burn,” he said.
As the fire season moves into warmer months, dangerous conditions could easily develop, providing acres of flammable materials for a brush fire to consume.
Fore said if that happens, a burn ban could be issued. Burn bans totally restrict any type of controlled burning, including construction, according to Fore.
During the fall fire season, which runs Oct. 1 through Dec. 15, well more than a dozen brush fires brought firefighters to various places across the Tri-County area.
Fore suggested those planning a controlled burn should monitor upcoming weather conditions. “Everybody needs to be cautious and aware of their surroundings,” Fore said. “They need to listen to the weather, or even call the Jackson weather service.”
He also advises informing the local fire departments so they are aware of a controlled burn.
West Knox Fire Department Chief Darryl Baker said his firefighters have had a busy season so far this year. “We’ve had four so far in the past week,” Baker said. “For us that’s quite a few and it’s still pretty early in the season.”
Two of those fires Baker said were considered “controlled burns” that got out of hand, and the other two fires’ origins were unknown.
He said current conditions can be tricky to evaluate. “It seems wet right now,” Baker said. “But the overgrowth over the land is still pretty dry.”
He advises folks looking to burn to “try to contain it to a burn barrel” and to “clear out around it” so fire has nothing to spread toward.
Baker also suggests keeping a water bucket or water hose nearby.
And if there is concern for neighbors, Baker said the higher the humidity, the lower the smoke from the fire sits. “The smoke will go higher when the humidity is lower,” Baker said.
But if all the precautions are taken and a fire still gets out of control, Baker pleads for citizens to contact firefighters. “Call as quickly as possible,” he said. “Don’t hesitate – let us come help you contain it quicker.
“Don’t be embarrassed.”