A forest fire burning since Monday is nearly contained, according to public safety officials.
The fire broke out in the Bolthouse Ridge area of eastern Pulaski County and has since burned some 480 acres on both the Daniel Boone National Forest and Rockcastle River WMA (Wildlife Management Area under Kentucky Division of Forestry supervision). Local volunteers led by the Shopville-Stab Fire Department were among crews initially responding to protect a dozen structures in the area until bulldozers could cut fire breaks around them. The Somerset-Pulaski Special Response Team used drones to help map out where the fire lines should be cut.
"The concern [for structures] is not that high," Pulaski County Public Safety Director Stacy Halcomb said. "Once the breaks were in place, the fire burned out before reaching any structures. It's mainly burning now in the woods along the Rockcastle River."
According to Halcomb, U.S. Forest Service crews are now battling the fire under the leadership of incident commander Leif Meadows. Though fire suppression efforts have been hindered by the rugged terrain west of the Rockcastle River, Halcomb said firefighters had reached 60 percent containment by the end of Wednesday and were hoping to have the fire completely contained sometime on Friday (today).
"I was out there 3-4 hours yesterday and they had worked all the way around the fire except for one part, which they hoped to finish today [Thursday]," Halcomb said. "There's been better weather today with less wind."
Ludie Bond, USFS Wildfire Mitigation Specialist, told the Commonwealth Journal at press time that the fire has been 80-percent contained but can be expected to smoke and smolder for the next several days -- until either all the vegetation has burned out or the area receives a soaking rain. No structures were endangered or roads closed due to the fire, she said.
Bond continued that 35 firefighters equipped with three engines and one dozer had spent Thursday monitoring the fire. "The winds are shifting from the southwest and south to the northwest which may cause the fire to burn toward the fire breaks," she said. "It's really important for our crews to keep holding the line."
With the Forest Service handling the Rockcastle River fire, Halcomb said that most calls local fire departments have been responding to involve violations of the county burn ban. The public safety director theorized that some people may have thought it was safe to burn after 6 p.m. in accordance with the traditional state restrictions implemented between October 1 and December 15.
"The county ordinance supersedes the state's fall fire restrictions," Halcomb said. "Our ban is still in effect, and we've sent out another One Call to remind our citizens that there's not to be any open flame burning."
Campfires and open flames in the general forest area and in dispersed, non-developed recreation sites on the Daniel Boone National Forest are also prohibited until conditions improve. The National Weather Service in Jackson is predicting that measurable rain will finally make its way back into eastern Kentucky for Sunday and Monday.
"We'll be lucky to get an inch," Bond said. "At this time of year, with the leaves falling, we can expect to experience extreme fire conditions for the foreseeable future."
Multiple fires are burning on the forest, including another in the Red River Gorge where Job Corps crews from neighboring McCreary County have been dispatched.
Bond noted that all the wildfires have been caused by humans.
"Which means they could have been prevented," she added. "Each could have been one less fire putting our wildland firefighters at risk, one less endangering lives and property."