By: Lisa Bicknell
Reports vary as to what started the fire in the Pitts area last Monday afternoon; some say it was a cigarette tossed out a window; others say someone was burning leaves and the fire got out of control.
Whatever the cause, firefighters and forestry crews worked tirelessly to save buildings and possessions while wildfire swept across hundreds of acres.
On Tuesday afternoon of Election Day, a second fire broke out in the Chamberlain Branch area, above High Street. Irvine Fire Department Chief Justin Patrick estimates the fire started around 2 to 3 p.m. It spread quickly, about an acre burning on the Irvine side, and the remainder of it spreading over into Ravenna.
The fire spread into an area that had been logged, and there were lots of dead tree tops on the ground, Patrick explained, that added fuel to the fire. Besides that, temperatures were warm and the wind was blowing.
“Ravenna had their hands full,” Patrick said. Several fire departments from surrounding counties showed up to assist.
Ravenna Fire Chief David Harvey said that nine homes were in immediate danger and they watched closely about 20 homes that were near the fire line.
He described it as an extremely dangerous situation, but he also said the outcome was all they could have hoped from: No one was hurt and no homes were lost.
The Pitts fire was contained on Wednesday, and by Thursday afternoon, both fires were said to be contained, although hot spots remained as some dead trees continued to burn.
According to Estill County Emergency Management, approximately 635 acres were burned in the Pitts Rd., Ticky Fork, and Betsey Ridge areas.
About 270 acres were burned in the Chamberlain Branch fire that threatened the city of Ravenna, particularly 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Streets, Daniels Addition, Jennifer Lane and part of Cow Creek.
Tuesday night and Wednesday morning were the days several homes were most threatened and some people evacuated.
Melissa and Ryan Powell’s home on Pitts Rd. was among those endangered.
Melissa is employed at Estill Springs and her co-workers, off work for Election Day, showed up to help protect her home.
Melissa wrote on Facebook that her co-workers “…brought drinks, leaf blowers, water hoses, buckets, smiles, texts, messages, calls, prayers and willing hands to help us build a perimeter around our house.”
Powell described the situation as “really bad for about an hour.”
A worker from Hardy Propane company said flames were burning right up next to the Powell’s propane tank when they were there to shut off the gas.
Travis and Stephanie Brinegar-Cassidy experienced some uneasy days and nights as the Chamberlain Branch fire threatened their home on Lana Drive.
Stephanie, Estill County’s Circuit Clerk, said she was on her way home from work on Tuesday when she noticed that smoke seemed to be coming up in a different location, one closer to Ravenna.
She had to make a quick trip back to town to unlock the courtroom for election results, when she saw Rescue Squad director Tommy Lane, who confirmed to her that there was indeed a second fire. By Wednesday, the flames were at the edge of her back yard, at the tree line, and were threatening not only the Cassidy home but that of their neighbors, Jennifer and Jay Wiseman.
Firefighters were on the scene there from Estill and Clark counties, as well as Clay City. Stephanie said they set up a trailer and literally camped out in their yards to try and protect their homes.
“People were super amazing about trying to help us,” she said.
The fire was so close at one point that Stephanie began to take down pictures from the walls and gather baby books and other things that can’t be replaced.
The Cassidys decorate big for Christmas, and Stephanie laughed as she shared how her husband made sure to gather their recently painted Snoopy and Charlie Brown decorations.
Three homes were threatened on Lana Drive and three on Corey Lane, she said, all within her neighborhood.
According to Lucas Barnes with CSEPP, many agencies assisted with battling both the Pitts fire and the Chamberlain Branch forest fires.
Firefighters from the Kentucky Division of Forestry and U.S. Forest Service primarily battled the fires in the woods using their resources and expertise. This included their specialized manpower and equipment (bulldozers, helicopters, and ground crews).
The county and city fire departments were focused on structural property protection and addressing flareups in areas close to homes. Many agencies were involved in these operations, including Estill County Fire Department, City of Irvine Fire Department, City of Ravenna Fire Department, Hargett Fire Department, Waco Fire Department, Kirksville Fire Department, City of Winchester Fire Department, City of Stanton Fire Department, City of Richmond Fire Department, City of Lexington Fire Department, Clark County Fire Department, Jackson County Emergency Management Agency (assisting primarily with reconnaissance operations on the Chamberlain Branch fire) and Estill County Emergency Management Agency (assisting primarily with crisis communications/messaging and agency coordination between the city, county, state, and federal agencies).
Estill County E-911 rceived many 911 and non-emergency calls regarding the forest fires and coordinated calls for service with the respective fire departments and forestry.
“I don’t have the total number of calls received and dispatched during this time, but these dispatchers worked very hard behind the scenes to keep the public and all first responders safe,” said Barnes.
They also received help from the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, which remained in regular communication and helped with resources requests such as manpower & equipment.
Helping Hands Outreach coordinated meals for the fire departments and forestry crews. They received donations from restaurants, churches, and citizens.
“This organization has assisted us many times in recent years with donations management,” said Barnes.
Individuals also dropped off donated food and drinks at the Ravenna Fire Department throughout the Chamberlain Branch fire, and Barnes said he believed it was a similar situation on the Pitts fire.
In addition, Marcum and Wallace Hospital coordinated the delivery of donated meals from several local restaurants on Nov. 9 and 10.
“This community is extremely generous and supportive of their local public safety agencies,” said Barnes. “We greatly appreciate their support!”