The large mountaintop fire near New River Highway west of Briceville was mostly out Saturday afternoon, but flames are flaring again on Walden Ridge in northern Anderson County, a state official said.
Meanwhile, firefighters were battling a 1,000-acre blaze in Campbell County. Despite fires across several counties in upper East Tennessee in the past week, though, no structures or homes have been damaged, according to the Tennessee Division of Forestry in Knoxville.
Assistant District Forester Nathan M. Waters said it wasn’t clear what caused the new fire at Walden Ridge. There were several possibilities. The fire had been considered mostly out on Friday, but it could have restarted, jumped control lines, or been reset. State officials suspect arson as the original cause of the 225-acre fire, which started Tuesday at Walden Ridge Road. That’s just north of Dutch Valley Road at Sulphur Springs Road.
Arson was also suspected at the fire near New River Highway at Graves Gap. It was first reported as a 100-acre blaze on Thursday but, fueled by winds, grew to 375 acres on Friday. It’s on a mountain east of New River Highway, also known as Highway 116, between Briceville and Rosedale.
State officials have reported no injuries in the two Anderson County wildfires. Firefighters from the Tennessee Division of Forestry have battled those blazes with the help of volunteers from Marlow, Briceville, and Sevier County. They’ve set up control lines, using hand tools and bulldozers to clear away brush and set “back fires,” essentially fighting “fire with fire.”
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.
Then, on Saturday, foresters said they responded to three new fires in Campbell and Scott counties on Friday. Those fires burned a total of 835 acres, and arson was suspected in all of them.
At the same time, crews continued to fight fires that started earlier elsewhere, including in Hawkins and Campbell counties.
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.
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. Those counties include Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Cocke, Grainger, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, Morgan, Roane, Scott, Sevier, and Union.
Under state law, anyone burning outdoors from Oct. 15 to May 15 is required to get a free burn permit from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division.
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 more than 960 fires in Tennessee this year, and they have burned more than 11,500 acres.
For more information, including phone numbers to call for permits or outdoor burning questions in each county, visit www.burnsafetn.org.