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Burning trees greeted with a heated complaint

UPDATE 6/30/2021 12:52 p.m.:

HIGHWAY DEPARTMENT SAYS BURNING WILL STOP TODAY

The Kentucky Department of Highways says the burning of logs and brush at Ermine will be stopped by the end of the day today, and debris will be hauled away.

The move comes two days after the burning began and residents began filing complaints with the Highway Department about smoke from the fires in the mixed residential and commercial neighborhood.

District 12 spokeswoman Sara George said Bush and Burchett, the contractor building a bridge at Ermine, had called the county judge/executive’s office to make sure there was not a burning ban in place, but apparently had not considered the adverse health effects of the smoke.

Residents called the department about adverse effects on the elderly and on at least one child in the area who has asthma.

George said it takes time to put out the fires, but the department has ordered the company to stop burning by the end of the day and haul the material away from homes.

The smell of smoke at Ermine isn’t a forest fire, it’s a contractor for the Kentucky Department of Highways.

Contractors working to replace the old bridge leading from US 119 to KY 2036, straight across the highway from Letcher County Central High School, cut trees from the riverbank to make room for construction, and they’re drawing complaints for burning the trees in the middle of a residential and commercial neighborhood.

“You know how I fought to get the cigarettes out of the courthouse. I saw that fire, and I about had a heart attack,” said Ann Estep, a nearby resident.

Estep, 82, who worked in the Letcher Circuit Clerk’s Office when her mother, Macy Warf, held the office, has breathing difficulties and was instrumental in getting a smoking ban in the courthouse. She said she just got out of the hospital for difficulty breathing, but had to go to the bank on Monday. She said seeing the trees burned up in an area with so many houses and businesses burns her up.

She said she stopped at the construction site and asked them to put out the fires, and called the local highway garage and the district office in Pikeville to complain.

“You know what it’s going to be for the next two or three months,” Estep said. “Mae Amburgey is lying up there on her couch, and she is almost 100.”

Amburgey lives just feet from the highway rightof way where the trees are being burned.

Highway department spokeswoman Sara George said she did not know that the trees were being burned. She referred calls to the section engineer, who was not available.

As of Tuesday, the trees were still burning, cloaking the area in smoke.

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