Dozens of ongoing wildfires continue to burn throughout the South, sweeping through wilderness areas in East Tennessee, northern Georgia and parts of North Carolina. The fires — many of them suspected arsons — have prompted evacuations in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee in recent days.
The largest of the fires has burned more than 13,300 acres — more than a third of the vast Cohutta Wilderness area in the north Georgia mountains just south of the Tennessee line.
Fire managers said Saturday that the blaze, believed to have ignited from a lightning strike in mid-October, was only 20 percent contained.
Smaller fires continue to burn in other parts of the state as well, spewing a haze across parts of East Tennessee. On Sunday, Metro Moore County Fire Chief Mark Neal and two other firefighters volunteered their services in the Soddy Daisy area, in Hamilton County north of Chattanooga.
Neal was joined by fellow Moore County firefighters Clint Goodwin and John LaCook.
“We spent around eight hours knocking out hot spots and patrolling neighborhoods protecting homes and giving reassurance to home owners,” said Chief Neal.
The three Moore County firemen spent about 8 hours helping patrol the burn areas. They left here at 6 a.m. and returned around 7 p.m. Sunday.
On Tuesday, two more local firemen — Tyler Riddle and David Huskey with the Tullahoma Fire Dept. — made a trip to East Tennessee to help with the outbreak.
In Tennessee, 42 of the 58 active wildfires in the state are suspected arsons — or about 72 percent of them — the Tennessee Department of Agriculture reported Saturday in its wildfire situation update. Several arrests have been made, including one Kentucky man who admitted to starting a blaze to gain attention to his Facebook page.
Johnny Mullins, 21, was arrested and charged with second-degree arson, the Associated Press reported. He often posted video segments that he called “Weather Outlook,” NBC News reported. His final video got 2,900 views.
Earlier this month, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park instituted a fire ban in the park’s back-country. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) has also asked sportsmen to follow burn bans issued in specified counties across the state.
We want to work with local officials who are worried about dry conditions caused by Tennessee’s drought,” Ed Carter, the executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said in a news release. “We are requesting that our sportsmen refrain from building campfires on all WMAs, but it is required in counties with burn bans.”
On Tuesday, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) issued a burn ban on all its public lands in the Tennessee valley.
To help ensure public safety during the continuing dry conditions, the burn ban affects all public lands, recreation areas and facility reservations it manages across its seven-state service area in the Tennessee Valley.
TVA announced that until further notice, all open flames are prohibited — including campfires, barbeques, smoking or any other flame producing activity — as well as vehicle parking on non-paved or gravel surfaces.
In addition, in locations where fire danger is extreme, TVA is temporarily closing public access to affected recreation areas and facility reservations. Gates and signs will be in place to block access. TVA officials said in a release on Tuesday morning that for safety purposes do not cross any gates or barriers.
The public is encouraged to report any violations to the TVA Police at 1-855-476-2489. Any fires should be reported immediately to 9-1-1 or to the local fire department.
A drought beginning in April has put much of the state well below normal precipitation for the year. The Chattanooga area is more than 16 inches below normal. Just 1.6 inches of rain has fallen in the Knoxville area since Sept. 1, which is 24 percent of what’s normal during that time.
Moore County recorded only .49 inches of rain in October and none to date in November.
—ROBERT HOLMAN, Publisher (Additional information from The Associated Press and TVA reports)