Thanks to Rain, Kentucky Firefighters Will Get to Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner at Home

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- What started out as a fast-paced fire season slowed to a stop thanks to rain that has made Kentucky forests too wet to burn.

``It looks like our firefighters will be eating Thanksgiving turkey at home this year,'' said Gwen Holt, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Division of Forestry. ``Luckily, mother nature has provided us adequate rainfall.''

For the year, firefighters have battled 1,503 fires that burned more than 26,000 acres. Many of those fires occurred in early November, after the annual fall of leaves from Appalachia's deciduous forests.

Holt said 118 fires burned 2,300 acres in one week, raising fears that 2004 could be another peak year for firefighting.

However, rain that arrived last week effectively ended the outbreak of fires, most of which were ignited by arsonists.

Karen Oudeman, a forecaster at the National Weather Service Office in Jackson, said additional showers and clouds through the Thanksgiving holiday will assure the forests remain wet.

``That's good news forestry-wise,'' she said.

However, Oudeman said, the long range forecast for December calls for below normal levels of precipitation in the region. That could mean another outbreak before the fire season ends on Dec. 15.

Holt said people who live in forested areas should take steps to protect their homes from wildfires. She suggested cleaning out gutters, removing leaves from lawns, stacking firewood away from houses and trimming trees that overhang roofs to keep wildfires away from residential property.

The region has been largely spared from wildfires over the past two years because of an unusually large amount of rainfall that kept forested areas too wet to burn.

Holt said that can be bad news because the amount of leaves and tree branches in the forests could mean fires would burn hotter. She said much of the region now has three years worth of leaves covering the forest floor, plus dried tree branches broken from winter ice storms and dead pine trees killed by an infestation of beetles over the past four years.

``When it does dry out, the potential for a very serious fire season exists,'' she said.

Holt said foresters don't want a repeat of the 2000 and 2001 forest fire seasons, which were the worst in more than a decade.

About 133,300 acres of Kentucky forest land were charred in 2000, followed by about 163,300 acres in 2001.