A Floyd County resident is expected to appear in court this month in a criminal case that started because he allegedly burned garbage on his own property.
Kentucky Division of Forestry Ranger Kevin Stiltner charged Dana resident Michael Scott Howard, 41, with setting fire on his own land without taking precautions, a misdemeanor.
Stiltner alleges in the criminal complaint that Howard was previously warned about burning garbage on his property, and on March 24, during the spring fire season, Howard allegedly burned garbage on his property without taking precautions to prevent it from spreading.
The state observes two fire seasons annually, from Oct. 1 to Dec. 15 and from Feb. 15 and April 30. During those times, residents are prohibited from burning within 150 ft. of a woodland.
Jason Hunt, an environmental control supervisor with the Kentucky Division of Forestry’s branch in Hazard, said the fire Howard is accused of starting burned 46 acres. Stiltner reported in the complaint that it took two crews and equipment to extinguish the blaze and cost the department about $2,400. Howard was given time to pay that cost and has failed to do so, Stiltner alleges in the complaint.
Hunt said this fire region, which includes Floyd, Pike, Perry, Knott, Letcher, Breathitt and Leslie counties, is one of the top areas statewide for both arson and debris fires.
“We have several crews that respond to the fires, several rangers that respond to the fires, so we get several cases a season, just depending on the investigation, what the ranger investigates and what they find,” Hunt said.
He said Floyd County usually ranks in the top five counties, statewide, for the number of woodland fires set by arson or by the burning of debris.
“As far as the number of fires per year, Floyd County, Perry County, sometimes Knott County, they rank in the top five of the state for forest fires,” Hunt said.
The Kentucky Division of Forestry reports that there have been 444 wildland fires this year in the state, damaging more than 5,600 acres. About half of those fires (243) were caused by arson and 124 of them were caused by people burning debris, the department reports.
Hunt said that between March and April, during the spring forest fire season, there were 15 woodland fires in Floyd County.
The 46-acre fire Howard is accused of starting was one of two fires in Floyd County that day, Hunt said.
“I guess a lot of people really don’t realize just how many wildland fires there are out there … There are times during fire season that we may have up to 10 a day, and the public just doesn’t see them, unless its right behind their house or in a large metropolitan area or town,” Hunt said.
He said during the spring fire season, the fires burned under 100 acres each in this region. He said these forest fires damage and scar trees and make them susceptible to diseases. They also cost taxpayers money, Hunt said.
“It’s costing the taxpayers,” he said. “Our money that’s provided to pay for our employees to be able to do this is taxpayer-based funding. So, we try to be able to recover as much of that as we can to be able to back the state.”
Howard is scheduled to appear in Floyd District Court for an arraignment on Aug. 26.