GRAVES GAP—Driven by wind, a mountaintop fire that started as a 100-acre blaze in northern Anderson County on Thursday grew to 375 acres Friday, authorities said.
State firefighters suspect the fire at Graves Gap on New River Highway west of Briceville was started by arson, spokesman Nathan M. Waters said. Waters is assistant district forester for the Tennessee Division of Forestry in Knoxville.
Local and state firefighters battled the mountaintop blaze by setting up control lines, using hand tools and two bulldozers to clear away brush and set “back fires,” essentially fighting “fire with fire.”
Early Friday night, Waters said firefighters had left and plan to return to the blaze on Saturday. Firefighters from the Tennessee Division of Forestry have been assisted by volunteers from Marlow, Briceville, and Sevier County.
The Graves Gap blaze is one of several that firefighters have been battling in upper East Tennessee this week. On Friday morning, the Tennessee Division of Forestry announced it had responded to nine new fires on Thanksgiving Day alone in Anderson, Campbell, Knox, Morgan, Scott, Sevier, and Union counties. The fires burned a total of more than 600 acres. Seven were caused by arson, one started with debris, and children started another.
The firefighters’ work has been made more difficult by windy, dry weather. They’re also stretched thin from battling multiple blazes.
Another challenge for firefighters in East Tennessee is the hilly, rocky terrain. That limits the clearing they can do with bulldozers.
A light rain fell briefly at Graves Gap early Friday afternoon, and it appeared that the drizzle might offer some relief. But it soon ended, the sun reappeared, and the wind began to lightly blow again, fueling flames.
The Graves Gap fire is the second suspected arson in Anderson County this week.
The first one, a 225-acre wildfire that started at Walden Ridge on Tuesday, was considered mostly out by Friday, although some smoldering piles of debris remained.
Due to the multiple fires and the deteriorating fire conditions, Waters said the state is restricting burn permits in 24 counties in upper East Tennessee through the weekend.
More information will be added as it becomes available.