Note: This story was last updated at 10:15 a.m. Nov. 24.
PETROS—One forest fire that has burned close to 800 acres since Sunday had scorched down to the north side of Petros by Wednesday evening, and a second nearby mountain fire that residents said started Wednesday morning billowed smoke across a section of Highway 62 south of Petros, near Petros-Joyner School in Morgan County.
The first fire, the one that firefighters have been battling since Sunday, is the Bald Knob Road fire. It’s named for a road that runs east out of Petros. It had charred 790 acres as of noon Wednesday, according to the Tennessee Division of Forestry. The fire is a suspected arson, and it was 60 percent contained on Wednesday afternoon. On Wednesday evening, firefighters appeared to have set back fires, which they use to contain blazes, near several homes in Petros, including off Armes Road in north Petros.
That fire had grown from what was reported to be a few hundred acres on Monday, when it emitted a smoke plume that could be seen for miles, including in Oak Ridge, to about 450 acres on Tuesday. It had almost doubled in size by Wednesday.
Residents said they noticed the other fire on a ridge above Petros-Joyner School near the intersection of Highway 62 and Highway 116 as early as about 11 a.m. Wednesday. By 5 p.m., that fire, which was called the Little Brushy fire, was pumping harsh, irritating smoke across Highway 62 and reducing visibility on a short section of the road between Petros and Oliver Springs in Morgan County. There are homes and businesses below the fire.
The Little Brushy fire is maybe five miles south of the Bald Knob Road fire, with Petros in between.
The cause of the second fire and its size were not immediately available Wednesday night. It’s a new fire and not yet listed on the regularly updated list of fires in Tennessee.
Among those who appeared to be responding to the fires in the Petros area on Wednesday were the Tennessee Division of Forestry and firefighters from Petros. Residents reported seeing and hearing helicopters earlier in the day, and they said the helicopters had scooped up water at the Brushy Mountain Reservoir.
Petros residents have said the air has been smoky at night and in the morning, including because of the Bald Knob Road fire and another earlier fire in Anderson County. They said they’ve stayed indoors some days and not been able to see the mountains at times.
Wade Teague, owner of Wade’s Body Shop on Highway 62 near the Highway 116 turnoff to Petros, said ashes from the Bald Knob Road fire have come down like snowflakes that you can see on cars. That’s affected car wash jobs at his body shop.
Firefighters have been battling anywhere from about 50 to 90 fires at a time across Tennessee this month as a drought persists. The Tennessee Division of Forestry reported 59 active fires on Wednesday afternoon that have burned 18,818 acres.
Oak Ridge Today has previously reported that a half-dozen fires since the beginning of this month have burned more than 4,000 acres in mountainous north Anderson County, mostly in rough, rugged terrain off Highway 116. Highway 116 connects to Highway 62 in Morgan County, runs through Petros and the New River valley in Anderson County, and connects to Highway 330 (Frost Bottom Road) on the eastern end, east of Oliver Springs.
There is also a newer fire listed in Anderson County off Beech Grove Road in the mountains northwest of Rocky Top. That fire was about 213 acres, a suspected arson, and 100 percent contained, according to the Tennessee Division of Forestry, which initially responded Saturday.
About half of the fires in Tennessee this year have been suspected arsons. Six of the seven fires in Anderson County are now suspected arsons. The Tennessee wildfires have cost an estimated $5.5 million, according to an Associated Press report.
Air quality alerts have been issued this month because of the fires, and firefighters have come in from other states to help battle the blazes. Other states in the Southeast have also been fighting fires, including in western North Carolina.
A light rain fell in Oak Ridge on Wednesday evening, but it wasn’t clear if it would be enough to help firefighters. Previous light rains haven’t helped, according to firefighters.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
See this previous story for information on a regional burn ban declared by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and information about a reward of $2,500 for a tip that leads to an arson arrest and conviction.
See a fire location map by the Tennessee Division of Forestry here.
See a list of active fires here.
See a map of Petros, which is north of Oak Ridge on Highway 62, here.
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