Wildfires continued to rip through several parts of East Tennessee on Friday. State forestry officials issued a release warning of the growing fire risk with details of a dozen new wildfires within the last couple of days.
Extremely dry and windy conditions have forced a total of 24 counties in Tennessee to stop issuing burn permits. The burn ban includes almost every county in East Tennessee. Some of the fires this week started with people ignoring the ban and burning leaves and debris. However, forestry crews said arsonists are to blame for many of the fires.
One of the larger fires burning Friday afternoon was along Highway 116 in Anderson County about 17 miles west of Briceville. The Anderson County technician for the Division of Forestry, Bruce Miller, said Friday marked the fourth straight day of crews fighting fires in the county.
"We got another fire in the county under control and then yesterday [Thursday] afternoon at about 1:00, we had an arson set on Highway 116 at the base of the mountain and it ran up. Now we're working on trying to secure the flanks and get both sides cut off. So far it has burned about 150 acres."
"The last couple of days we've had several brush fires. The challenge with this wooded area here is there's not much we can do to get up there and combat it with water," said Tony Errington, Chief of the Briceville Volunteer Fire Department.
The rugged terrain has forced crews to cut breaks through the woods and try to contain the fire within the barrier. The fire burns especially hot because there is plenty of fuel to feed the flames.
"The place that this fire is at has not burned since 200, so it has had about 12 years to fuel to build up with leaf litter and dead trees. It makes it just that much hotter and harder to fight," said Miller.
Along with an abundance of fuel on the steep slopes, on Friday a cold front pushed through Tennessee. The front brought a small amount of moisture and a great deal of wind to fan the flames.
"We've tried and contain it and Forestry has worked through the night. But as you see, now the wind is picking up and it's carrying [the fire] farther on up the mountain," said Errington.
For now the Anderson County fire has not destroyed homes, but the risk is there.
"If it goes on across this ridge and goes down, it's going to head down for a residential area and that's our biggest concern now," said Errington.
State forestry crews responded to nine new fires in East Tennessee on Thanksgiving Day, including a large fire in east Knox County that still smoldered on Friday. Other locations reporting wildfires on Thursday were Anderson, Campbell, Morgan, Scott, Sevier, and Union counties. Officials said those fires burned a total of 632 acres. Seven of the fires were started by arson, one by burning debris, and one was caused by children.
Burn permits are typically required for outdoor burning from October 15 through May 15. For updates on when it is safe to burn and information on obtaining permits, visit the website www.burnsafetn.org.
If you have any information on who may have started any of the wildfires in Tennessee, officials encourage you to contact the Tennessee Arson Hotline at 1-800-762-3017.