Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet
Firefighter Safety Awareness Day is May 17
FRANKFORT, Ky. (May 15, 2006) - More than 27,000 wildfires have burned nearly 250,000 acres across the southern United States this year, claiming at least two dozen lives. This has moved Leah MacSwords, the Kentucky state forester and director of the Kentucky Division of Forestry, to join with other state and federal wildland fire agencies in the South to call for a special Firefighter Safety Awareness Day on May 17.
According to state and federal wildland fire officials, the pace of this fire season has been of historic proportions across the southern United States. Record wildfires have destroyed many homes and businesses in Texas and Oklahoma and other southern states.
Kentucky has had 1,396 wildfires burning 42,582 acres this year. During the same period in 2005, Kentucky had 660 wildfires that burned 12,634 acres.
Hurricane debris from the past two years has resulted in a major increase in fire intensity and decreased ability to quickly control fires in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. "Spring storms and remnants of past ice storms in Kentucky have dramatically increased the amount of fuel in our forests," said MacSwords.
Significant drought conditions continue in Texas and Oklahoma, the entire Gulf Coast and Florida. Another extreme drought pocket covers much of Virginia and North Carolina.
As bad as the winter and spring of 2006 have been, the potential exists for conditions to get even worse, according to the National Weather Service.
2006 has seen an unprecedented loss of life and serious injuries to local, state and federal agency firefighters as well as civilians.
At least six firefighters and 18 civilians in the southern United States have died as a result of wildland fire-related accidents. Accidents caused by wildfires have also resulted in serious injuries and loss of equipment.
Firefighters in the 13 southern states will participate in the special Fire Safety Awareness Day on Wednesday, May 17. The day will start with a moment of silence for firefighters who have lost their lives this year, followed by a 10-minute stand-down for safety.
"We are asking Kentucky firefighters to take a pause for safety on May 17 to make sure they are focused on safety fundamentals," MacSwords said. "We have an awesome responsibility to protect public safety as well as our valuable natural resources, but one life lost to wildfire is one too many."
For additional information on wildland fire safety, visit the Web site of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group Safety and Health Working Team: <http://www.nwcg.gov/teams/shwt/index2.htm>.