For the first time in weeks, there were no active forest fires in Kentucky Wednesday afternoon, according to the Kentucky Division of Forestry.
Fire crews had already gotten the upper hand on the outbreak of fires after more than a month of battling blazes in the state’s powder-dry woods, but significant, welcome rain this week helped finish the job, state and local officials said.
“That’s a blessing for sure,” said David McGill, emergency manager for Harlan County.
Many places in southeastern Kentucky, where the majority of the forest fires occurred, received a half-inch or more of rain late Monday and early Tuesday, followed by well over an inch in places beginning Tuesday evening, according to the National Weather Service.
In Harlan County, which had some of the biggest fires, some areas received nearly three inches of rain in the 24 hours ending at 7 a.m. Wednesday, the weather service reported.
There were scattered forest fires in the state after fall fire season started Oct. 1, which is not unusual, but the number of blazes escalated late in the month with extreme dry conditions and warm weather.
By Nov. 3, there were so many fires that Gov. Matt Bevin declared an emergency, the first time since 2001 a governor had done that as a result of wildland fires.
Kentucky National Guard helicopter crews flew more than 500 hours and dropped nearly 1.5 million gallons of water on fires beginning Nov. 3, said Maj. Steve Martin.
Smoke from forest fires created unhealthy air quality at times, and at one point in mid-November officials urged people to prepare evacuation plans because of concerns over the potential for gusty winds to fan fires out of control in southeastern Kentucky.
In the end, there were no evacuations and the fires did not destroy any homes, state officials said.
McGill lauded the efforts of those who worked to control the fires.
“Things could easily have got out of hand here,” he said.
However, heavy smoke from forest fires contributed to a Nov. 16 pile-up on the Mountain Parkway involving more than a dozen cars and trucks in which a Breathitt County man died, officials said. Charles Turner, 65, who was driving a coal truck, had gotten out, possibly to check on another driver involved in the crash, and was struck and killed by another vehicle.
A volunteer firefighter in Bell County, Rodney Collett, was injured fighting a brush fire in October and later died.
The fires scorched a lot of territory.
There were a total of 415 fires on private or state land since Oct. 27, said John Mura, spokesman for the state cabinet that includes the Division of Forestry. The fires burned 56,837 acres.
Those totals do not include fires on federal land such as the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Still, the total number of fires this year won’t likely surpass 2001. There were 1,996 fires that year that burned 128,145 acres, said Floyd Willis, chief of the Division of Forestry.
There have been a total of 1,184 fires so far this year and 75,600 acres burned, he said.
Willis said people should remember that the fall fire season lasts until Dec. 15. People are not supposed to do any burning within 150 feet of woodlands between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the season, he said.
Scores of counties added total outdoor burning bans in November.
Counties have started rescinding those orders, but they remain in some places. For instance, Harlan County will keep its burn ban through Dec. 15, McGill said.
Officials advised checking locally before burning outdoors.