Thursday, November 15, 2001

No respite on Ky. wildfires

Rain not likely until next week

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

        PIKEVILLE, Ky. — Forest fires charred another 2,100 acres in the mountains of eastern Kentucky on Wednesday as weary firefighters looked to the heavens for any sign of rain.

        Blue skies prevailed again, but long-range forecasts offer some hope for precipitation early next week. Light rain with cooler temperatures is possible on Monday, said Michael Lewis, meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Jackson.

        “It may be enough to quash it a little bit,” Mr. Lewis said. “We need a good enough rain to dampen it. Our hopes are it will be enough.”

        For the past two weeks, smoke from the fires has shrouded the mountains. The gray haze and acrid smell that closed five Pike County schools for two days has drifted as far as Lexington and Louisville. In southern Pike County, thick smoke has been blamed for a chain-reaction accident on U.S. 23 Monday that killed a Whitesburg man.

        No significant rain has fallen in 18 days, turning leaves and tree branches to tinder for arsonists who have been setting fires across the region.

        “If it gets cold and we get the rain, we should be in good shape,” said Diana Olszowy, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Division of Forestry. “Right now, I'd be happy with any amount of rain.”

        Gwen Holt, another spokeswoman for the forestry division, said fresh firefighting crews are rotating into the affected areas.

        The Bureau of Indian Affairs on Wednesday sent 120 people into eastern Kentucky to help with fire suppression. Some 1,500 firefighters are now involved.

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