Rain quells wildfires in Kentucky; fires still burning in other states

Thursday, November 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Drenching rains helped quell blazes that had burned for three weeks in eastern Kentucky in the state's worst wildfire outbreak in a decade.

Most of the 1,500 firefighters who had been battling the blazes were allowed to return home for the Thanksgiving holidays.

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

Firefighters, including National Guardsmen, began leaving Tuesday after a quarter-inch of rain extinguished fires that have burned 173,000 acres so far this year.

In neighboring Tennessee, light rain on Wednesday was also credited with helping firefighters get the upper hand on blazes that have burned across more than 61,000 acres in the state since October.

More than 2,000 firefighters remained at blazes 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. Many fires, particularly those in Kentucky and Tennessee, were deliberately set.

Flames from a 2,000-acre fire were creeping close to the Shenandoah National Forest in Virginia on Wednesday. In North Carolina, a 6,500-acre blaze between Asheville and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was about 75 percent contained.

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.