HARLAN COUNTY, Ky. (FOX 56) — Harlan County is now in a state of emergency due to multiple forest fires over the weekend.
Since Friday, there have been six different forest fires within Harlan County alone, according to authorities. It’s causing a major strain on first responders in the county.
“It’s been very tiresome, very and we’re all mentally and physically drained. We all haven’t been getting much sleep. It’s just been it’s been really tough,” said Harlan firefighter Jordan Howard. “I’ve seen forest fires, but I’ve not seen nothing this bad a very long time.”
Judge Executive Dan Mosley declared the state of emergency at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, explaining that it would allow them to request additional resources from across Kentucky.
Environmental scientist consultant for the Kentucky Division of Forestry Steve Kull said “With the winds and the dry of course, we’ve been in an extended drought for a while here in Kentucky, and that’s playing out with fires that get ignited out of the woods. Our crews are having a difficult time controlling them, we have to basically incorporate little bit different tactics when it’s this dry. We have to use more heavy equipment. We have to dig down in the soil further to keep dead roots of things from spreading fire across our fire lines and it has to take a lot more time doing so.”
An open burning ban is now in effect until further notice, according to Mosley.
Chief Spencer Bailey with the Wallins Volunteer Fire Department said,” You’re trying to protect the public. You’re trying to protect your homes and stuff. You’re leaving your family. You know, you’re leaving work and stuff to try to go after and help them. And it’s, you know, the times you can get emotional about it because, you know, you’re trying to protect their homes. You’re trying to protect the mountains.”
As of Sunday, Mosley said two firefighters were hurt while attempting to “protect life and property.”
FOX 56 does not know the names of those hurt at this time, but we do know they suffered injuries that are not life-threatening.
Mosley said some of the fires have been confirmed to be from people attempting to burn debris, but the flames got out of control. Other fires are suspected to be arson.
“Forest arson is a felony,” Mosley said in a Facebook post. “Intentionally setting a fire is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines. Forest arson should be reported by calling the Target Arson Hotline at 1-800-27-ARSON, that’s 1-800-272-7766.”
Illegal open burning can be reported to the Harlan County Sheriff’s Department at 606-573-1313 or Emergency Management at 606-573-6082.