Friday, September 24, 1999

Brush fire tests 10 departments

No one hurt in lengthy battle

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LUDLOW — Firefighters from at least 10 Northern Kentucky fire departments struggled Thursday to douse a brush fire that burned for nearly five hours and engulfed a circular area that covered 3 miles in the hilly wooded terrain on the outer edges of this Kenton County town.

        Fire hoses stretched across nearby railroad tracks, block ing train traffic.

        No one was injured in the blaze, which was reported at 3:15 p.m., and no homes were threatened. The cause of the fire is unknown, but Ludlow Fire Chief Dennis Campbell said he is labeling it suspicious.

        Two nights ago there was a brush fire along the Ohio River above High Point, and investigators found material that someone used to start it, he said.

        “Everything up there is so dry, and the wind is so strong,” Chief Campbell said. “It's the wind, the dark and the lack of rain (that made putting the fire out difficult).”

        Firefighters from Ludlow, Independence, Covington, Bromley, Crescent Springs and other neighboring communities worked their way through wooded areas as they battled high winds and the oncoming darkness.

        One of the biggest problems in battling the fire, Chief Campbell said, was getting water to the hilly terrain off Montague Road.

        “It wasn't really stubborn. We just couldn't get to it.”

        The Independence Fire De partment brought in a portable pond holding 1,500 gallons of water because there were no nearby fire hydrants. All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) were used to get the hose up the hill.

        Greg Chisenhall of Montague Road watched as firefighters battled the blaze on the hill behind his property, but he wasn't concerned for his home.

        “I think with these guys being around here, I don't have to,” Mr. Chisenhall said.

        Bob Setzer, superintendent of Norfolk Southern Railway, said the tracks are the main line between Cincinnati and Chattanooga, Tenn. Twelve trains were stopped because of hoses on tracks, he said.

        In the fire's early stage, Chief Campbell allowed two trains carrying hazardous materials to pass.

        “The way the fire was spreading, we didn't want to take the chances” on any more, he said.

        By 8 p.m., the fire was out and firefighters were searching for hot spots.

        Kentucky is suffering from its most severe drought in 11 years, with no relief in sight.

        Throughout the Tristate, agencies are banning or restricting cookouts and open flames for the first time since the summer of 1988, during that year's dry spell.

        Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties already are under an open flame ban because of clean-air concerns. When that restriction expires Oct. 1, each county will consider imposing a similar ban because of forest fire concerns.

        Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon has declared 38 counties — including those in the southeast corner of the state — to be emergency fire hazard areas, restricting open fires on public land. And the Department of Natural Resources extended that ban to every state-owned park and woods.

        In Ohio, Hamilton County Park District crews put up signs Tuesday at the entrance to every park, warning visitors to take care with their campfires and grills. Rangers in the Metro Parks of Butler County are giving verbal warnings, and officials are considering an outright fire ban.

        The Tristate has received 36 percent less rain than normal from May 1 through mid-September — and is unlikely to recover, according to the National Weather Service.

        The average daily rainfall of 0.1 inch measured so far this month is dropping as the driest time of year sets in.

        Kentucky State Parks sent a letter last week to each facility, urging officials to take action on a county-by-county basis.

        Starting a fire under Kentucky state law would be considered a Class B misdemeanor with a penalty of six months confinement and a $1,000 fine.

        According to Boone County Sheriff's Sgt. Rob Reuthe, Boone County officials are trying to toughen forest fire penalties to a Class A misdemeanor. The increase would increase possible jail time to one year and allow the county to recoup costs associated with a forest fire.

        Enquirer reporters Marie McCain and William A. Weathers contributed.


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