Last weekend an illegal campfire in Red River Gorge, set during a declared fire ban, has spread to more than 400 acres and has led to the closure of Tunnel Ridge Road, a portion of Kentucky Highway 7, and several trails in the Auxier Ridge area.
The U.S. Forest Service (Daniel Boone National Forest) is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the three individuals responsible for the escaped campfire. The fire began just after midnight on Saturday.
The escaped campfire led to an emergency Forest Supervisor’s Order that closed an estimated 3,000 acres in the Auxier Ridge area. Forest Service officials spent most of Sunday morning searching for more than 50 backcountry campers and hikers who had vehicles parked in the closure area. All visitors associated with the vehicles were found safe.
Forest Service law enforcement officers witnessed three individuals running from the escaped campfire and getting into their car parked along Kentucky Highway 77. An investigation is under way. According to law enforcement officials, the individuals starting the fire would be best served by coming forward.
The wildfire has led to the closure of Tunnel Ridge Road, a section of Kentucky Highway 7 from Nada Tunnel to the Martins Fork parking area. Trails closed due to the fire include Grays Arch, Rough Trail, Sheltowee Trace, and the entire Auxier Trail system which includes Auxier Ridge, Courthouse Rock and Double Arch (click here for a map of the impacted area).
Earlier this week, Daniel Boone National Forest officials increased the fine for violating the ban on campfires from $75 to a $500 minimum.
Since the ban, Forest Service law enforcement officers have issued nearly 200 violations for illegal campfires in the Red River Gorge.
All violations will require a mandatory appearance in federal court. Up to six months imprisonment could be incurred in addition to a fine. Individuals who allow a campfire to escape and result in a wildfire may be required to pay restitution for suppression costs.
Anyone with information about the fire should call Forest Service Patrol Capt. Kimberly Kipp at (606) 875-5042.
For more information on the Red River Gorge in central Kentucky, please click here.