Lexington fire officials: Watch where you toss your cigarettes

After extinguishing nearly 30 grass and mulch fires in three days, the Lexington Division of Fire asked residents Monday not to haphazardly throw away cigarette butts.

Burning cigarettes combined with dry weather are thought to have caused most of the fires, the fire department said in a news release.

Four fires were reported within an hour Monday morning before rain showers moved into the area. Twenty-seven fires had been reported over the past 72 hours.

Most mulch fires are extinguished quickly, but the fires can spread easily, fire officials said.

Last week, a fire started by a burning cigarette caused an estimated $90,000 in damage and property loss to a home on Vanderbilt Drive, Battalion Chief Ed Davis said.

"It burnt the back of the house off. It got into the attic and into the walls," Davis said. "It was a very substantial fire."

The fire started after a woman apparently smoking on a deck threw a cigarette butt into vegetation below. Fire investigators and the home insurance company ruled that the cigarette was the cause, he said.

The fire department asked residents to not throw cigarettes out of cars or into trash cans, vegetation, potted plants or areas with mulch. Dunking a burning cigarette in water is the surest way to make sure it is extinguished.

Monday's four fires occurred between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., Davis said. Rain that moved into the area about 9 a.m. probably wasn't enough to improve dry conditions for long.

"It would take probably a day or two worth of rain to get conditions back to where they should be," he said.

The dry spell is likely to continue until Friday, when a storm is expected to move through Fayette County, said Angie Lese, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Louisville.

"This week should worsen those conditions because we won't get any significant rain until ... Friday night through Saturday," she said.

Lese said about 2 inches of rain fell on Lexington in the past 30 days, which is "pretty dry" for spring. Lexington is about half an inch behind normal rainfall totals for April, she said.

However, conditions aren't dry enough to be classified as a drought by the U.S. Drought Monitor, unlike much of the western part of the state. About 35 counties west of Taylor county were experiencing "abnormally dry" conditions, the least severe ranking on the monitor's drought scale.

Lexington is not that close to a drought yet, she said.