State officials coordinating air, ground effort to fight Ky. wildfires

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FRANKLIN COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) - In response to numerous wildland fires burning throughout the Commonwealth, Governor Matt Bevin declared a statewide emergency to provide local and state officials immediate access to state resources.

“My primary concern is safety. By declaring a state emergency we are providing emergency resources to proactively respond to local needs. I thank all of the officials working hard to keep people safe,” said Gov. Bevin. “As dry conditions remain throughout Kentucky, we urge all citizens to use extreme caution during outdoor activities and refrain from outdoor burning.”

More than 6,000 acres have been burned since the fires started, state officials said Thursday. The Division of Forestry said crews responded to 44 fires on Thursday.

The Kentucky National Guard is helping in the battle against wild fires burning throughout the commonwealth.

The Kentucky Guard mobilized two UH-60M Blackhawks and one LUH-72 Lakota out of the Army Aviation Support Facility in Frankfort.

The Blackhawks have 600-gallon water buckets that will help put out fires from the air. The Lakota will support with command and control from the air.

The aircrews are working directly with the Division of Forestry and are projected to assist until mission complete.

"The response is in progress," said Michael Dossett, director of Kentucky Emergency Management. "It is well within our control at this point, and we're methodically walking through these areas."

There are several fires burning across Eastern Kentucky. The largest fires are located in the Southeast District. There’s a 1200+ acre fire in Pike County in the Shelbiana neighborhood. That fire is near the high school.

Forestry crews are also battling a 1500+ acre fire in Harlan County, near the Letcher County line.

On Wednesday night, a 97-acre fire sparked in Whitley County, but crews have since contained that fire.

Forestry officials are also checking on a report of a fire at the Bell/Knox Co. line.

The Northeast District currently has four active fires burning; One in Greenup is the largest, at 150 acres. there are also fires burning in Lewis, Magoffin, and Carter counties.

At this time there have been no reports of injuries, evacuations or house fires associated with the wildland fires.

Unfortunately, the dry conditions feeding the fires are expected to stick around. Officials say even the rain the region saw on Thursday would not be enough to help much.

"We're dependent on the weather," said John Mura, communications director for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. "But the Air National Guard is now dropping water on fires, and that's going to help, and it will continue to help, but until we get a good soaking rain, we're going to be in the soup a little bit."

This is the first time wildfires have caused a state of emergency in Kentucky since 2001, Dossett said.

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