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Thousands of Fires Burn Across South; Weather, Arson Blamed

November 07, 1987|Associated Press

ATLANTA — Blazes in the mountains of Kentucky on Friday could be smelled 300 miles away in South Carolina as thousands of fires continued burning in 13 Southern states with no rain in sight before Monday.

Foresters blamed a combination of dry weather, brisk winds, falling leaves and arsonists.

South Carolina posted its first-ever "red flag alert" for 16 counties, meaning the area is ripe for wildfires. Officials there counted more than 125 wildfires in the first week of November.

Three states--Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia--and 24 counties in western North Carolina banned outdoor burning. Alabama is considering a ban.

121,000 Acres Burned

From Texas to Virginia, more than 8,000 fires have burned 121,000 acres--190 square miles, an area more than three times the size of Miami--in 11 days, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

That did not include West Virginia, which is just outside the Forest Service's 13-state Southern Region. Damage there would bring the total to at least 249,000 acres.

The regional toll includes fires from Oct. 27 through Thursday night. Among the hardest-hit states were Kentucky, 620 fires, 28,304 acres; Tennessee, 588 fires, 12,801 acres; Louisiana, 3,037 fires, 32,388 acres, and Mississippi, 997 fires, 14,416 acres.

Immediate relief is unlikely; chances for rain today were called slight by the Forest Service. Rain is possible Monday for most Southern states.

Coy Mullins, a forester with the West Virginia Agriculture Department, blamed some of his state's fires on squirrel hunters who set trees afire in an effort to flush out their prey.

Arsonists in Kentucky

Charlie Crail of the U.S. Forest Service in Kentucky blamed "99 out of 100" of his state's fires on arsonists. To help control the fires, 450 firefighters have been flown in from 17 Western states, and 220 National Guard troops have been mobilized.

Firefighters were worried about "break overs"--which happen when winds blow burning leaves across fire breaks, restarting dormant fires or starting new ones.

Alabama's fire alert was expanded to cover the northern half of the state.

"We've got a major problem," said Rick Hofmeister of the Alabama Forestry Commission. "The wind and the low humidity have taken these fires out of control."

In the Oxford, Miss., area Thursday, a major fire threatened a subdivision along state Highway 6. Residents sprayed their houses with garden hoses to protect them.

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