travelers in area
Volunteer firefighters and the Tennessee Division of Forestry are working to contain and monitor three forest fires that have broken out in Polk County this week.
According to Mary Miller, an information officer with the Cherokee National Forest, the first fire began near Highway 64 on Monday and ignited from unknown causes. The fire is reportedly being called the Go Forth fire and is approximately midway between Ducktown and Benton. Miller reported the fire is about seven miles east of Benton and covers 223 acres.
“This fire is a big concern because it is so close to the road. This is also why it is so visible,” Miller said. “Fire lines are being installed and the area is currently being burned out so the fire will be contained. We are urging the public to use caution.”
Miller reported there are about 50 people working at the site with engines and bulldozers to try to keep the fire contained. They include personnel from the volunteer fire department, the TDF, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency. The Tennessee Department of Transportation is currently helping with traffic control.
According to Miller, a second fire broke out in the Coon Creek area near Highway 30. The fire is reportedly due to lightning and is believed to cover 40 to 60 acres of land. Miller reported fire lines are being placed to contain the fire. As of this morning there was no good estimate of how long the fire might last.
A third fire was reported Wednesday afternoon, and Miller reported it was located in the Halfway Branch area by officials late Wednesday night. The reported cause of fire is lightning. According to Miller, this fire is located near the Georgia state line and is known as the Iron Mountain Chase fire. There are currently workers reportedly sizing up and working to contain the fire.
“The area this fire covers is not known yet, but it may be quite a big bigger because of the dry conditions and steep location. We are taking cautionary measures to ensure all areas are covered,” Miller reported.
There are no structures involved in any of the fires. The public is urged by the Department of Agriculture of Division of Forestry to exercise extreme caution as the region experiences these hot, dry conditions.
Tim Phelps, with the Forestry department, reported the high temperatures across the state combined with a lack of precipitation and unusually low humidity is causing vegetation to be dry and more susceptible to fires.
“We are urging the public to hold off with burning debris,” Phelps said. “One rainfall will not be enough to outweigh the dry conditions and allow for debris burning. There will need to be much more rain before that can occur.”
Tennessee does not currently require a debris burning permit, although there may be local restrictions.
“Several fires have been caused from other sparks like cigarettes or equipment,” Phelps explained. “Blades on lawn equipment, like mowers, can strike a rock and begin a fire. It is best to do this type of work when the humidity level is higher — in the morning and evening.”
Phelps also urges people to be observant as they work with equipment. He advised carrying fire extinguishers when practical.
The Tennessee Division of Forestry urges the public to keep the dry conditions in mind during the July 4 celebrations. This may include going to a professional show instead of setting off home fireworks.