April 3, 2014

No Burn Season: Firefighters battle multiple brush fires Monday

By R. Scott Belzer & Nita Johnson
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — London residents on Old Way Road started a fire on Monday afternoon that nearly burned down three houses and one tool shed.

A family living off Old Way Road decided to burn the majority of their trash on a sunny, windy and ultimately dry Monday afternoon. Neighbors reported hearing an explosion from the fire before seeing a fire in a nearby field.

It spread quickly but both the Laurel County and Bush Volunteer Fire Departments were able to subdue the blaze to nothing more than a charred field.

On the same afternoon, the East Bernstadt Fire Department as well as the McWhorter Fire Department responded to reports of a brush fire in the areas northeast of London off New Salem Road as well as Hwy. 1394 near East Bernstadt.

Needless to say, it was a busy afternoon for our local fire departments.

While farmers usually burn fields in preparation for the next cycle of crops — called agricultural or controlled burning — the Commonwealth of Kentucky is currently in the midst of a burn ban from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Despite heavy rains throughout the year, Kentucky maintains two ‘fire seasons” every year in which persons are not permitted to burn. The state is currently under the spring fire season, which runs from Feb. 15 to April 30. The fall ‘no burn’ season stretches from Oct. 1 through Dec. 15.

According to Trevor Allen of the Laurel County Fire Department, however, the burning of trash is not allowed under any circumstances.

“It’s always a beautiful, sunny afternoon — usually around 2 or 3 p.m. — and people just decide to burn their trash,” Allen said. “A gust of wind is all it takes for someone to almost burn down their house.”

Amey Pennington with the East Bernstadt Volunteer Fire Department echoed Allen’s sentiments.

“You are never supposed to burn your trash at any time of day,” she said. “When you do burn, it is only supposed to be wood, twigs, and things like that.”

Kentucky Revised Statute 149.400 deals with Fire Hazard Seasons and states that during the two fire hazard seasons:  “It shall be unlawful for any person to set fire to, or to procure another to set fire to, any flammable material capable of spreading fire, located in or within 150 feet of any woodland or brushland, except between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., prevailing local time, or when the ground is covered with snow.”

The exceptions to the burning law does not apply if the fire is set for burning plant beds. It also exempts “competent and qualified employees of railroad, utility, or pipeline companies in connection with the construction, operation, or maintenance of railroads, pipelines, powerlines, or other projects in the public interest right-of-way.” Government employees authorized to burn on government land are also exempt from the burning rule.

This time of year, pine needles and similar foliage are extremely susceptible to fires, as they naturally lose moisture the fastest.

County burn bans are issued by the county judge executive and enforced with the assistance of the Kentucky Division of Forestry.

Burn bans tend to target the following:

• Burning of forest, grass, crops woodlands, marshes or other similar areas.

• Burning leaves or debris.

• Campfires, bonfires and warming fires.

• Open pit cooking and charcoal grilling.

• Use of fireworks and in some cases welding.

The Kentucky Division of Forestry can cite persons for burning illegally — a charge that can carry up to $500 fine and a year in jail, or both. Someone charged with intentionally setting or having fire set to someone else’s property can face a fine ranging from between $1,000 and $10,000 and up to five years imprisonment.