Note: This story was updated at 5:25 p.m.
A brown-gray haze thickened over Oak Ridge on Monday and the smell of smoke hung in the air as firefighters battled blazes in East Tennessee and across the state.
The haze was visible at least into west Knox County.
Anderson County and Oak Ridge both issued reminders that a burn ban is in effect. The Oak Ridge Police Department sent out a notice that the smoke in the air is due to numerous brush fires throughout the state, and the department asked residents to not call 911 to inquire about the cause.
Three active fires were reported in Anderson County, with 1,485 acres burned.
One fire on Highway 116 in the Devonia area of north Anderson County was caused by arson, and it burned 200 acres, the Tennessee Division of Forestry said in the list of active fires. That fire is 100 percent contained, according to state officials.
A second fire was caused by debris, and it burned 1,400 acres, the Division of Forestry said. That fire is also 100 percent contained.
An air quality alert is in effect until 4 p.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service in Morristown. It’s been issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for the Knoxville and Chattanooga areas, and the Great Smoky Mountains.
A Code Red air quality alert for ozone has been issued, the National Weather Service said. Ground level ozone concentrations within the region may approach or exceed unhealthy standards.
“Everyone may experience health effects,” the Weather Service said. “Members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.”
The burn ban in Oak Ridge includes recreational fires, the city said in a press release. The ban will be in effect until further notice.
“Due to the severe drought in our area, there is and has been a ban on open fires within the City of Oak Ridge,” the press release said.
Last week, state Forestry Commissioner Jai Templeton issued a statewide burn ban, according to an Anderson County press release.
“Due to dry conditions and little prospect for rain, firefighters are seeing an increase in fire activity across the state,” Templeton said in a statement. “The public should use good judgment and avoid situations that cause fire and put citizens, property, and emergency workers at risk.”
Anderson County officials said smoke from the three fires here, as well as from 17 wildfires in Campbell County, has affected visibility on Interstate 75 in both counties.
The fires in Campbell County have burned 3,475 acres.
There have also been fires in Knox and Morgan counties. They’ve had three fires each, with 16 acres or less burned.
While the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry is not issuing any burn permits—now or for the foreseeable future – it’s always important to inform the state forestry department before any kind of burn is conducted, Anderson County officials said.
“Citizens should all be aware that they have to call Forestry, no matter the time of year, before they burn something,” Anderson County Emergency Management Director Steve Payne said.
The statewide burn ban prohibits the burning of leaves and brush, fence rows, construction debris, fields, gardens, wooded areas and grassland, cardboard, wooden items, and household waste. Also, the ban prohibits campfires, cooking fires, and the use of burn barrels, as well as charcoal or wood-fired grills.
A violation of the statewide burn ban is considered reckless burning and is punishable as a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a fine of $2,500 and/or up to 11 months 29 days in jail, Anderson County said.
On Sunday, the Tennessee Division of Forestry said the majority of new fires were trending toward the south end of the Cumberland District, but considerable activity remains in the East Tennessee District. The division responded to 19 new fires on Saturday, for a total of 263 acres. The majority were suspected arson. Other causes included escaped debris fires, campfires, and vehicles.
There is no change in the weather forecast, state officials said. The forecast calls for continued low relative humidities during the day, light winds, and above average temperatures, and the fire activity is expected to remain very high.
“No Safe Debris Burning Permits are expected to be issued statewide until substantial precipitation is received,” the Division of Forestry said.
Tennessee Department of Agriculture Commissioner of Ag Burn Bans are now in effect for four counties in East Tennessee: Claiborne, Jefferson, Loudon, and Sevier.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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