16 Wildfires Burn 2,300 Acres in Tennessee, 10 Considered Arson

An outbreak of wildfires continued in East Tennessee on Monday as tired firefighters again manned fire lines after a few hours of sleep and state inmates were called on to help.

Fires were burning near both the Georgia and Kentucky borders as warm and dry conditions contributed to the fire danger.

Two new fires began Monday, according to the state Forestry Division.

A suspected arson fire in Morgan County burned about 200 acres and a blaze started by equipment consumed 7 acres near Hickory Star in Union County.

Through Monday morning, 16 wildfires had burned about 2,300 acres north of Knoxville, said Nathan Waters, assistant district forester.

Ten were arson related, one was caused by fireworks and two were debris fires that got away, Waters said.

In Campbell County, firefighters worked to keep flames away from 23 vacation cabins Sunday afternoon, while a larger fire burned more than 800 acres. A 25-man crew of inmates from Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex will help firefighters Monday, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

The Highway Patrol stationed troopers along Interstate 75 to caution drivers to slow down because of smoke blowing onto the highway from yet another fire that burned more than 100 acres.

A fire below Signal Mountain, about 10 miles from the Georgia line, was still causing firefighters trouble Monday morning, said Robert Rhinehart, assistant district forester in the Chattanooga Forestry Division office.

"We've still got all kinds of fire left," Rhinehart said Monday.

Firefighters were cutting fire lines in steep terrain Sunday afternoon when the blaze jumped Middle Creek and headed up the mountain toward several homes.

That's when Rhinehart called in a fire retardant drop — the first one since 1991, he said.

The retardant is an environmentally friendly, red slurry that sticks to whatever it falls on, making it difficult to burn, he said.

The U.S. Forest Service responded immediatly to the request.

"They came right away and knocked down the head of that fire," Rhinehart said. "It was a very timely retardant drop."

An assessment Monday revealed about 310 acres burned.

The firefighting effort was being concentrated on the eastern end of the blaze, where Rhinehart said it could again jump the creek and threaten homes. There were no structures threatened on the western end of the blaze.

The high temperature yesterday in Chattanooga was a record 88 degrees — topping the 87 degrees recorded in 1929.

A chance of scattered afternoon rainshowers Tuesday and Wednesday are expected to have little effect, but relief could come Saturday, said Doug Schneider, a forecaster with the Morristown office of the National Weather Service. Significant rainfall is expected then.

The rainfall total since Jan. 1 is 6.28 inches — less than half the usual precipitation of 15.34 inches, based on a 30-year norm.

There were no major fires reported in Northwest Georgia.

In Alabama, 1,200 acres burned on Low Gap Mountain. Alabama Forestry Commission radio operator Linda Reaves said it was caused by someone burning debris. There was also a 50-acre fire at Buck's Pocket.