Fires smolder in Southeast

BY SUSAN KIM | Baltimore, MD | November 8, 2000


Southeastern states were ridden with smoldering stumps, burning logs, and flaring hotspots on Wednesday as firefighters

fought to contain blazes that have burned for more than a week.

Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia have lost thousands of acres to fires.

In Kentucky, 34 fires have burned some 35,000 acres in 16 counties. Some 20,000 acres were still burning Wednesday. But

firefighters are optimistic that heavy rain predicted for Wednesday night would help them reach containment, said Gwen

Holt, information officer for the Kentucky Division of Forestry. "It's no longer spreading," she said.

Four homes have been burned in Kentucky, all in McCreary County. "But we had several instances where structural

protection was the only way to save homes," said Holt. "We were lucky to lose only four."

Fire officials have been advising residents to remove brush or flammable material away from their homes. Fire crews have

also been digging fire lines and wetting down roofs. "We've launched a massive public education campaign on 'defensible

space,' " said Holt.

The Salvation Army has been providing canteen services to crews in Kentucky and North Carolina. "It's not only the food but

it's good for morale," said Bobby Kitchens, who is working on an incident management team in Kentucky. "We think we're

going to button these fires up in a couple of days."

North Carolina - now the state reporting the highest containment of fires - has lost some 10,000 acres.

In eastern Tennessee's Anderson County alone, eight fires have burned 9,000 acres. In Sevier County, firefighters had a close

call but managed to save some 100 homes outside of Pigeon Forge and 10 more homes in New River. Fires raged within 50

feet of homes in Campbell County.

Two Tennessee counties -- Anderson and Scott -- were still at risk on Wednesday, according to Tom Womack, public

information officer for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. Two large fires covering 7,000 were burning in Anderson

County while one fire in Scott County had consumed 1,500 acres.

The state is classifying 80 percent of the fires as arson. "I don't understand it," said Kurt Pickering, public information officer

for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. On average, 50 percent of wildfires are caused by arson, said Womack.

"There has been an elevated amount of arson."

Arson investigators are combing the area and trying to determine suspects. "Some have already been identified and some we

are still apprehending," said Womack, adding that the arsonists appear to have "individual" reasons for setting fires and do

not appear to be working as one group.

Pickering said the fires spread rapidly because the last two years have brought dry weather to the region.

In Virginia, two fires in the Shenandoah National Park merged to cover more than 13,200 acres. Kathleen Harter, a fire

information officer in Virginia, said that residents in her state are still concerned. "They call to ask where the fire is, and what

they can do to protect their homes. Also, they ask about air quality and about the effect on wildlife."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized funds to help fight fires in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Health officials in Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee issued advisories about the hazards of smoke-ridden air. Small children,

elderly people, and smokers are especially vulnerable to adverse health effects caused by smoke, as are people with heart and

lung disease and people with allergies.

Residents could experience increased asthma attack rates as well. Smoke from burning trees and leaves can also increase

chances of catching colds and flu, and can cause nose, throat, and eye irritation even in healthy adults. Some symptoms may

not appear until several days after exposure to smoke.

Health officials recommend avoiding outdoor activities and keeping doors and windows closed. "Also people should make

sure they have plenty of medication and food supplies if going outdoors is a risk for them," said Womack.

Smoke has drifted as far as Cincinnati this week.


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