By Simone Lewis – National Weather Service Charleston, WV
When the word wildfire comes to mind, images of burning forests in the western United States usually enter the thoughts of most. But did you know that Kentucky is also prone to wildfires? In fact, the state averages 1,447 wildfires a year! The following article will discuss what weather conditions are favorable for wildfire development, the weather alerts that are issued during periods of favorable fire weather, and what you can do to prepare for and prevent wildfires.
Photo Credit: Kentucky Emergency Management
The first question on your mind is probably “What is Fire Weather”? Essentially, fire weather is any sort of weather that can ignite or lead to rapid spread of fires. This includes thunderstorms (which contain strong gusty winds and lightning that can lead to rapid spread or ignition of a fire), days when the relative humidity is low (often in the early spring and fall seasons), and windy days (which acts to not only spread wildfires but also leads to the drying of vegetation, making it more susceptible to burning).
Most wildfires in the state of Kentucky are caused from arson or from uncontrolled debris burning. In fact, 90% of all wildfires in Kentucky are caused by humans. Unlike many fires in the western United States, most of the fires in Kentucky are fought by firefighters on the ground (Source: Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet). They are putting their lives in danger to control the spread of these fires. It is therefore important to always be fire aware, and heed any Fire Weather Watches or Red Flag Warnings issued by the NWS.
Here are some general guidelines to follow when the following products are issued:
Fire Weather Watch = BE PREPARED! Dangerous fire weather conditions are possible in the next few days but are not occurring yet.
Red Flag Warning = TAKE ACTION! Dangerous fire weather conditions are ongoing or expected to occur shortly. During a Red Flag Warning, you should avoid or use extreme caution when dealing with anything that could pose a fire hazard.
- Do not start a campfire or ignite a burn pile.
- Do not burn trash.
- Avoid using a lawnmower, chainsaw, or any other equipment that may emit sparks.
- Do not dispose of cigarette butts on the ground or outside of your car.
- If using an outdoor grill, make sure to have a water source nearby and do not dispose of the ashes until the Red Flag Warning has expired or been canceled AND the ashes are fully extinguished!
- Watch for smoke nearby. If you spot an unattended fire, call 911 and report it immediately!
What do I do to prepare?
Take personal responsibility by preparing long before the threat of a fire, so your home and family are ready.
- If there are concerns of fire potential, create a defensible space by clearing brush that is easier to ignite away from your home.
- Put together a basic emergency supply kit. Check emergency equipment, such as flashlights and generators.
- Plan escape routes and make sure all those residing within the home know the plan of action.
- Sit down with your family and close friends, and decide how you will get in contact with each other, where you will go, and what you will do in an emergency. Keep a copy of this plan in your emergency kit, or another safe place where it can be accessed in the event of an emergency.
- Review your insurance policies to ensure that you have adequate coverage for your home and personal property in the event of fire.
- Follow the latest NWS forecasts and listen to a NOAA Weather Radio for the latest updates.
Photo Credit: U.S. Forest Service
What are Kentucky’s Fire Laws?
Lastly, it’s important to know and heed the fire laws and seasons for the state of Kentucky. During the following periods, it is illegal to burn anything within 150 feet of any woodland or brushland between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
- Spring Forest Fire Hazard Season: February 15 – April 30
- Fall Forest Fire Hazard Season: October 1 – December 15
Also, burn bans can be issued at any time of the year if conditions warrant, particularly during periods of drought, and should always be followed.