February 14, 2007 | By: Terri McLean

With all the precipitation and below-freezing temperatures Mother Nature has dumped on Kentucky in recent weeks, forest fires are probably the last thing most people are concerned about. But they should be concerned. With the beginning of spring forest fire season Feb. 15, the risk of forest fires is greatly increased, no matter how wet or cold it is.

“Don’t let Mother Nature deceive you,” said Doug McLaren, Extension forestry specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. “This is one of the most vulnerable times for our forests.”

The reason for the increased fire potential is simple, McLaren said. Because of the lack of foliage on deciduous trees during this time, solar radiation can quickly dry out the leaves and twigs on the ground. Add to that the high winds associated with low humidity levels, and the debris on the forest floor becomes a fast-burning fuel.

In addition, woodland owners often underestimate the fire potential during this time and may think it’s safe to use fire to prepare for planting and other farm management tasks.
“Solar radiation and winds will dry out the upper surface of the ground and cause small fires to become major concerns,” he warned. 

The spring forest fire season is one of two such periods set aside each year in Kentucky. The other is Oct. 1 through Dec. 1. During forest fire season, all outdoor burning is banned within 150 feet of any woodland or brush land, except between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and when the ground is covered in snow.

Every year, fires in Kentucky burn thousands of acres of private forest land, mostly in eastern Kentucky where a majority of the state’s woodlands are located. Forest fire damage results in a reduction of the value or potential value of timber.

“Most stands of timber that have had at least one fire in them may have a value loss of 50 percent of the potential value,” McLaren said.


Doug McLaren, 859-257-2703