Tuesday, November 23, 1999

Arson fires close many Red River Gorge trails

The Associated Press

        Arson fires burning Monday at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky shut down many popular trails and caused confusion for some out-of-state visitors.

        “We are asking for the patience and cooperation of those people who are interested in visiting the gorge at this time,” Daniel Boone National Forest Supervisor Ben Worthington said in a statement. “With actively burning fires and heavy firefighting traffic on narrow roads, it would be a real safety hazard to have members of the public in these areas right now.”

        Some visitors have been surprised to learn the trails have been closed, as well as much of the access to the eastern portions of the Red River Gorge, a popular hiking and camping area known for its rock houses, cliffs and other rock formations.

        “Many of our recreational users are from out of state, and as serious as they are, our forest fire problems don't always get a lot of news coverage outside Kentucky,” said Stanton District Ranger Donnie Richardson. “It is important that people understand that we still have very bad fire conditions and that a forest-wide fire ban remains in effect.”

        The fires were started by arsonists late last week but probably won't be contained until Thursday or Friday. There are no suspects.

        About 1,000 acres have burned.

        All visitors are encouraged to call ahead before going to the Gorge this weekend, said Dixie Dies, an incident information officer for the U.S. Forest Service.

        More than 220 people are helping to battle the blaze, which is costing about $400,000, Ms. Dies said.

        Danger to wildlife has been kept to a minimum because the fires have been slow-moving, and 98 percent of the fires have been on the ground, fueled by dry leaves, Ms. Dies said.

        At the gorge, Tunnel Ridge Road at Ky. 15 has been closed, as well as the hiking trails Auxier Ridge, Auxier Branch, Double Arch, Courthouse Rock, Rough, Grays Arch, Daniel Boone Hut and Rush Ridge.

        The gorge is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The park is popular with mountain climbers and has about 60 miles of hiking trails. Each year, about 500,000 people visit, said Marie Walker, spokeswoman for the Daniel Boone National Forest.

        The number of forest fires in Kentucky has steadily grown in the past week — primarily in eastern and southeastern Kentucky. More than 100,000 acres of forest have burned this year, which is more than any other year this decade.

        The Kentucky National Guard, as well as firefighters from various other states, have been brought in to help the Kentucky Division of Forest with the effort.


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