KY Fire Ban Begins; Tobacco Barn Burnings Spike

Oct 1, 2015

Credit Virginia State Parks / Flickr Creative Commons

  A record number of tobacco barn burnings are taking place as Kentucky's statewide fire ban begins today.

Calloway County Fire Chief Thomas Morgan says in his 18 years of service, this is the second largest number of barn fires he has seen during the tobacco season. Already the department has responded to 11 barn fires in their area, each almost a complete loss in crop and property.

“Nobody really can tell us why certain years are worse, but this particular year seems to be one of them.” Morgan said.

According to Morgan the first tobacco firings are typically more likely to start a barn fire because of the methane gas released from the crop. He says the gas collects in the top of the barn and if it isn’t ventilated properly it’s easier to catch fire.

Calloway County UK Extension Agent Matt Chadwick says it was a weird year for tobacco. The significant amount of rain in July left farmers weeks behind with their first round of the crop, causing them to rush in order to get their second round “topped” and ready for firing.

“Topping and oiling tobacco plants is a method that is used to force the plant to focus its energy on adding weight to the existing leaves instead of reproduction. During the process the “top” or flower is cut or broken off the plant, then a chemical ‘oil’ is applied down the stalk of the plant with the intention of killing the buds located at every leaf junction.” Chadwick said.

Chadwick says the number of tobacco farmers in the area has decreased, though the amount of acreage has increased.

The fire ban runs until December 15th and prohibits burning anything within 150 feet of any woodland or brushland between the hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.