Kentucky’s drought conditions are worsening, contributing to hundreds of wildfires in tinder-dry fields, drying out hanging tobacco and bringing the real possibility of drinking water shortages, state officials said Friday.
“The Division of Forestry has suppressed 196 wildfires since Aug. 1 compared to only six for the same period last year,” Steve Kull, assistant director of the division, said in a news release.
Many of the fires started in dry agricultural fields when sparks were thrown from harvesting or mowing equipment. As of Oct 12, 38 Kentucky counties were under burn bans, the release said.
Additionally, state officials declared a more severe drought level for 50 Kentucky counties across western and north-central areas. Those 50 counties from Fulton to Boone are now under a Level 2 drought declaration, meaning there is a possibility of water conservation advisories or mandatory water-use restrictions.
There are 35 more counties across central and south-central Kentucky under a Level 1 drought declaration, indicating moderate drought conditions affecting soil moisture and vegetative health.
The news release from the Energy and Environment Cabinet said officials expect several of the state’s remaining 37 counties to come under drought declarations soon.
“The most recent weather outlooks indicate a dry pattern may persist well into November,” said Chip Zimmer, an environmental technologist at the Kentucky Division of Water.
Zimmer said there is a potential for isolated water supply shortages, though most of the state’s potable water supply sources are currently at safe levels.
Across the state, tobacco that should be curing in barns is drying out, said Tom Priddy, a University of Kentucky agricultural meteorologist. The dried-out tobacco, which becomes an undesired yellowish color, will bring lower prices at market.
Across Kentucky, 55 percent of the state’s tobacco crop now stored in barns was rated in fair, poor or very poor condition, according to this week’s crop report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Kentucky field office.
Kentucky is the nation’s top producer of burley tobacco, an ingredient in cigarettes.