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Foresters Warn Of Fire Danger Throughout Parched South

November 5, 1987

Undated (AP) _ Fires have destroyed 100,000 acres of forest land across the parched South in the last week, and foresters warned Wednesday that more land could burn as a fall drought continues.

In a reverse of conditions earlier this autumn, when firefighters from across the country were sent to the West to battle huge forest fires, crews were being sent from California and New Mexico into the South.

The worst fires so far have been in Kentucky and Tennessee, but the U.S. Forest Service’s regional office in Atlanta warned that forests in all but the extreme Southeast are vulnerable.

″The fire danger is super high all over,″ with the exception of Florida and the Gulf area, said Sharon Young, a Forest Service spokeswoman. Parts of Florida have received rain this week, but the National Weather Service is predicting little or no rain for the Southeast through the weekend.

In the last week, 7,000 fires have burned 100,000 acres in the 13-state region from Texas to Virginia, the Forest Service said. About 600 of those fires have burned 22,000 acres in Kentucky and 550 fires have burned 8,400 acres in Tennessee, the Forest Service said.

Fire danger also was high across southern Illinois, which has had waves of brush fires in the past few days, state officials there said Wednesday.

More than 3,500 firefighters are battling the Southern fires around the clock, and federal officials have activated the Southeast Fire Compact, Ms. Young said. ″This means that the Forest Service and member states are sharing firefighting crews, equipment and funds in an effort that’s coordinated by a central dispatch office ... in Atlanta.″

Most of the fires are caused by arson or trash burning, and falling leaves make them difficult to fight, Ms. Young said.

″One fire official compared it with trying to shovel your walkway while the snow’s still falling,″ she said. ″They finish digging the fire line, but it fills up with blowing leaves that make a fresh fuel bed.″

Kentucky’s governor issued a proclamation closing state and private forest land to all but land owners or tenants, and Tennessee’s governor imposed a statewide burning ban.

Tennessee’s weary firefighters were told Wednesday that help was on the way from New Mexico, California and South Carolina, and Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter authorized the use of helicopters to airlift firefighters into rugged mountain areas.

″There are so many fires that we do not have the personnel to man them all,″ said Tennessee state forester Roy Ashley. ″Some of our firefighting crews haven’t rested for several days.″

Ms. Young said Mississippi reported its worst October for forest fires in more than 12 years, 2,468 fires burning 29,930 acres.

In the first two days of November, more than 5,000 acres burned in Mississippi, she said.

In southern Illinois, prospects were poor for immediate relief from the dry conditions.

″Our forecast is not very encouraging,″ said John Osborne of the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky. ″It’s going to be dry and windy. It’s not going to get any better.″

One of Illinois’ larger fires started Monday just south of Carrier Mills. It burned more than 1,000 acres and threatened to move into the Shawnee National Forest before it was contained late Tuesday.

″It was jumping roads and creeks and everything,″ said Carrier Mills Fire Chief Rob Barks.

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