Lower humidity and gusty winds at higher elevations mean fire conditions have worsened in East Tennessee, state firefighters said Sunday.
Two firefighters were slightly injured battling blazes in Campbell County on Saturday, said Nathan M. Waters, Tennessee Forestry Division assistant district forester.
State and local firefighters have responded to 16 new fires since Thanksgiving Day across upper East Tennessee, including in Anderson, Campbell, Knox, Morgan, Scott, Sevier, and Union counties. The fires have burned hundreds of acres, and many of them are suspected arsons.
Waters said forestry crews would recheck fires in Anderson, Scott, and Campbell counties, including one on Walden Ridge that broke out again on Saturday and one on a mountaintop west of Briceville on Highway 116, also known as New River Highway. The Walden Ridge breakout was contained, and “crews will be improving lines today,” Waters said.
In a Sunday morning press release, Waters said the Forestry Division, which has been assisted by local fire departments and volunteer firefighters, responded to four new fires on Saturday in Campbell and Scott counties, including along Highway 25 and the Cumberland Trail.
He said some fires have been set near existing blazes, and others have been in areas hit by repeated arsons.
Arsons, which are punishable by three to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, pose many problems, Waters said. They are a threat to residents, firefighters, structures, and homes, and they reduce visibility and pollute the air, he said.
Money that could be used in other ways is instead used to battle the blazes and repair damage, including to wildlife management areas and parts of the Cumberland Trail that have been damaged.
“The forest itself suffers, as trees are continually injured, which opens them up to disease and insects, as well as degrading the scenic beauty of areas and the timber quality,” Waters said. Fires also have long-term effects on wildlife populations because they affect animal resources and food sources, he said.
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.