Rain bought fire officials time, but Kentucky forest fire season is only just beginning

Forest fire season began earlier than normal in the Daniel Boone National Forest, but that doesn’t mean it will be done any sooner, a U.S. Forest Service spokesperson said.

Forest fire season will likely continue until December, said public information officer Christy Wampler. It got an early start in late September when a severe drought led to fires in several areas of the forest, including near the popular Sky Bridge of the Red River Gorge.

Crews worked on containing the fire by essentially placing a border around it, and they have been attempting to control it ever since, Wampler said. As of Friday, the fire near Sky Bridge had been 100 percent contained, while the fire just west of the Rockcastle River between Somerset and London is 95 percent contained.

In spite of rainfall earlier in the week, a burn ban remains in effect for the area, which includes national forest lands of the Red River Gorge. Burn bans in some counties have been lifted, but national forest burn bans are issued by the forest supervisor, who has not declared it safe to cancel the ban.

“The reason is that drought monitoring reports and weather forecasts indicate continuing drought conditions,” the U.S. Forest Service said. “The drought mixed with fall leaf-off, which is adding more ground to the forest floor every day, is creating the need to take extra precautions with fire activity in the area.

A large portion of the forest is considered to be either in a moderate drought or is abnormally dry, which is an improvement from last week thanks to a decrease in temperatures and a few inches of rain. Last week, several areas were in a severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Firefighters from throughout the country came to Kentucky to battle the fires that started in the Daniel Boone National Forest in the last couple of weeks. While those fires have subsided, the firefighters have remained on site, including a fire crew from Puerto Rico.

“We already came in to this a month into a drought. One 3-inch rainfall only slows it down,” Wampler said. “It also brought cooler temperatures which does help with things drying out. What it really did is give us a little lull to regroup. But it knocked a lot of leaves off the trees and those are drying out.”

Wampler said she expects more fires to pop up in the next week or so.

Fire officials are currently focusing on rehabilitation, which includes assessing damage and looking to see how they can restore the area to pre-fire conditions. Soil scientists, wildlife biologists and recreation specialists are also on scene trying to determine how the recent fires have affected the forest.

The forest area is still available for recreational use, but Wampler advised people to be smart about how they use the lands.

“Before you come out and recreate, check the Facebook page to see areas that are closed and to see burn restrictions,” she said. “Recreate responsibly and respect those burn restrictions — they are there for a reason.”