The risk of wildfires in Kentucky due to climate change Skip to content

The risk of wildfires in Kentucky due to climate change

Most of Kentucky is not facing a serious risk of wildfires. But some parts of the state definitely are. So the question is: Are we ready?

4 min read
Photo by Malachi Brooks / Unsplash

The second article in the Climate Risk series

Take an extended drought, add in extreme heat, and then have a lightning storm, and you’ve got the makings of a wildfire. As we’ve seen in Hawaii recently, wildfires can be devastating ... and climate change can increase the risk of wildfires.

Fortunately, in our state we only have a few counties with an elevated risk for wildfires. According to the Wildfire Model from the First Street Foundation, most of our counties are either at the Minor or Modest risk levels. However, some are at the Major level, two are at the Severe level, and one (Magoffin) is at the Extreme level.

The First Street Wildfire Model “incorporates wildfire fuels, such as trees and other vegetation, based off the U.S. Forest Service’s fuels dataset. It also incorporates homes as potential fuels for wildfire spread to other homes based on patterns observed in 550 historic wildfires.

“Using probable ignition locations based on historic fires, the model then considers the past weather patterns that impact fuels by making them hotter and drier, as well as the weather that helps spread fires further such as wind. It uses the past 10 years of weather data from NOAA to provide the full range of fire weather conditions for today’s risk and considers how future weather conditions will change.”

Here is a map of the wildfire risk in Kentucky by county:

Map of Wildfire Risk in Kentucky

Wildfire Risk Data Table

And here is the underlying data. The table can be sorted by clicking on a column header.

County Fire Risk
Allen 1
Anderson 1
Ballard 1
Barren 1
Boone 1
Bourbon 1
Boyle 1
Bracken 1
Breckinridge 1
Bullitt 1
Butler 1
Caldwell 1
Calloway 1
Campbell 1
Carlisle 1
Carroll 1
Christian 1
Clark 1
Clay 1
Crittenden 1
Daviess 1
Edmonson 1
Fayette 1
Franklin 1
Fulton 1
Gallatin 1
Garrard 1
Grant 1
Graves 1
Grayson 1
Green 1
Hancock 1
Hardin 1
Harrison 1
Hart 1
Henderson 1
Hickman 1
Hopkins 1
Jefferson 1
Jessamine 1
Kenton 1
Larue 1
Lincoln 1
Livingston 1
Logan 1
Lyon 1
Madison 1
Marion 1
Marshall 1
Mason 1
McCracken 1
McLean 1
Meade 1
Mercer 1
Metcalfe 1
Montgomery 1
Muhlenberg 1
Nelson 1
Nicholas 1
Ohio 1
Oldham 1
Owen 1
Pendleton 1
Pulaski 1
Robertson 1
Rockcastle 1
Russell 1
Scott 1
Shelby 1
Simpson 1
Spencer 1
Taylor 1
Todd 1
Trigg 1
Trimble 1
Union 1
Warren 1
Washington 1
Webster 1
Woodford 1
Adair 2
Bath 2
Boyd 2
Casey 2
Cumberland 2
Fleming 2
Henry 2
Laurel 2
Lewis 2
McCreary 2
Menifee 2
Monroe 2
Powell 2
Rowan 2
Wayne 2
Breathitt 3
Carter 3
Elliott 3
Floyd 3
Greenup 3
Harlan 3
Johnson 3
Knott 3
Knox 3
Lawrence 3
Letcher 3
Martin 3
Morgan 3
Owsley 3
Pike 3
Whitley 3
Leslie 4
Perry 4
Magoffin 5

Notes and Conclusions

Unlike the first article in this series, which dealt with flood risk, overall our state is facing little risk from wildfires. That doesn’t mean we are facing no risk; as the map and data table show, the eastern part of the state (again) has a higher risk from wildfires, especially if that area faced a sustained drought.

The leaders in the counties with the higher risk need to game-plan how they would deal with a wildfire in their county. Do they have the equipment and personnel to fight such a fire? Are their firefighters trained in dealing with wildfires? How would they water or chemicals to the fire?

As we have noted multiple times over the past few years, ignoring the climate crisis isn’t going to make it go away. Let us hope that our elected officials are looking at this data and considering what to do about it.


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Bruce Maples

Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)

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