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Rain Quells Wildfires in Kentucky

November 21, 2001

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Rain did in one day what 1,500 firefighters had been trying to do for more than three weeks: It quelled the blazes that have charred parts of eastern Kentucky in the state’s worst wildfire outbreak in a decade.

Firefighters, including National Guardsmen, began leaving Tuesday and Wednesday after a quarter-inch of rain drenched the fires that have burned 173,000 acres so far this year. Most firefighters assigned to Kentucky will be able to have Thanksgiving dinner with their families.

More than 2,000 other workers, however, remained at fires in other Southern states that did not get rain.

The blazes have been less severe in those states, including Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Flames from a 3,000-acre fire were creeping close to the Shenandoah National Forest in Virginia on Wednesday. Another fire of similar proportions was burning between Asheville, N.C., and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The fires have been burning about 10,000 acres a day in the South for the past four days. Bernie Freeman, fire intelligence coordinator at the Southern Area Coordination Center in Atlanta, said the possibility of rain beginning Thursday night had firefighters hopeful.

In Kentucky, some firefighters stayed behind to monitor stubborn fires that continued to smolder despite the rain.

``It’s not over. We’ve got a small fire in Pike County now. I don’t know what they used to start it, but they must have used a blowtorch,″ said Dexter Conley, a state forest ranger.

The firefighters had come from 26 states, as far away as Alaska.

``Everyone’s delighted to be going home,″ said Bill Paxton, a U.S. Forest Service ranger from Florida. ``We turned the corner with the rain.″


On the Net:

Southern Area Coordination Center: http://www.southernregion.fs.fed.us/sacc

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