Gorge fire being held in check

Lighter wind and higher humidity helped firefighters in the Red River Gorge on Monday.

"We're just praying that the line holds," said Evelyn Morgan, fire information officer with the Daniel Boone National Forest.

A forest fire in the gorge had not crossed a line at a damp drainage area called Sargent Branch, Morgan said, but if it does, it could grow to 1,000 acres. It had burned about 175 acres by Sunday. The Forest Service had a helicopter and two crews, one from Oregon and one from Oklahoma, on standby Monday in case that happens. The fire was first reported at 4:30 p.m. Friday.

A runaway campfire caused the forest fire, Morgan said, and an investigation is open. A person found guilty of setting a forest fire can be fined for the cost of fighting the fire, which can be $10,000 to $100,000 a day, she said.

Anyone camping in national forests needs to know, "It's not safe to just go off and leave a campfire," Morgan said.

Later in the day, Morgan said that if conditions hold, they should have the fire contained, thanks to higher-than-expected humidity.

But part of the gorge was expected to stay closed through most of this week, Morgan said. The area is north of Ky. 715 and east of Ky. 77, known as Tar Ridge Road, and west of Gladie Creek to Lost Branch Trail. Closed areas included Sheltowee Trace, Indian Staircase and Bison Way Trail.

In addition to the fire in the gorge, state forestry officials fought nearly two dozen fires in Eastern Kentucky during the weekend.

Two spotting flights Monday over the six-county eastern district of the Kentucky Division of Forestry revealed seven new fires — three in Pike County, two in Magoffin and one each in Johnson and Floyd counties.

There also were four fires remaining from the weekend, bringing Monday's total to 11. Two of the older fires were in Pike County, and there was one each in Johnson and Magoffin, District Ranger Adam McGuire said.

The district fought 13 fires Saturday and eight that started Sunday, he said.

One firefighter injured an ankle Sunday night in Johnson County, McGuire said. No homes had been burned, but there's often a danger where there's no cushion of clear ground between a house and dry brush, he said.

The district usually sends up a detection plane once a day but sent up two flights Monday because of the hot, dry weather and the number of fires during the weekend, McGuire said. He said some are simple brush fires, but arson is suspected in most cases. It is difficult to catch someone who maliciously sets a fire, McGuire said, although forestry officials give police leads if they can.

"They ride in on four-wheelers" and out again, making an arsonist hard to track, McGuire said.