WALDEN RIDGE—State officials suspect arson as the cause of a 225-acre fire that started on Walden Ridge in northern Anderson County on Tuesday.
State and local firefighters have used hand tools and two bulldozers to remove fuel from around the fire, and they started a “back fire” to control the blaze. It’s “fighting fire with fire,” said Charles Via, Tennessee Division of Forestry fire resources coordinator in Knoxville.
He said the blaze appears to have started at a dump and spread into the woods. It was on Walden Ridge Road, but officials did not have to close the narrow, gravel road.
Although it’s now a controlled burn, flames are still flaring inside the control lines. Those control lines form what look like a giant ring of fire on Walden Ridge.
“This thing is large, and there is no way to put it out without the help of Mother Nature,” Via said Thursday.
He said the fire would require a lot of time and resources to completely extinguish, and the state is also battling blazes elsewhere, including in Campbell, Carter, Hawkins, Morgan, and Union counties. Arson is suspected in most of them, Via said.
“That’s normal around here,” he said.
Via said it’s been dry in East Tennessee, and it’s also been windy at higher elevations. No rain is predicted until Wednesday, and smoke from the fire could be visible for the next few days, Via said.
Smoke from the fire was visible in Oak Ridge on Wednesday. The blaze is just north of Dutch Valley Road at Sulphur Springs Road, two ridges north of Oak Ridge.
Via said firefighters left the Walden Ridge blaze at about 12:30 p.m. Thursday and will return on Friday morning unless they are called back earlier. Sixteen state firefighters have battled the blaze with the help of local fire departments.
Via said October to May is fire season in East Tennessee, and there are a lot of arson fires, including in Anderson County, this time of year. The region doesn’t get as many summertime fires because of the humidity and tree canopy.
He said he was not aware of any injuries or fatalities, or damage to homes or structures, at the Walden Ridge fire, which is on privately owned land.
The Tennessee Division of Forestry announced Thursday that fire conditions in East Tennessee had continued to deteriorate, and 24 counties would not be issuing burn permits, including Anderson, Campbell, Knox, Loudon, Morgan, Roane, and Scott. Under state law, anyone burning outdoors from Oct. 15 to May 15 is required to obtain a free burn permit from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division.
The Forestry Division said it responded to four new fires on Wednesday in Hawkins, Union, and Scott counties, and two new fires on Thursday in Scott and Union counties. Arson is suspected in five of those six fires.
State officials said woods arson is a Class C felony punishable by three to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. Anyone with information about suspected arson activity can call the Fire Marshal’s Arson Hotline toll-free at (800) 762-3017. Calls are kept confidential.
The Forestry Division said there have been about 960 fires in Tennessee this year, and they have burned roughly 11,500 acres.
For more information, visit www.burnsafetn.org.