Arson is suspected in a forest fire that has burned 100 acres along Highway 62 south of Petros, authorities said Thursday.
The Little Brushy fire is in mountains above Petros-Joyner School near the intersection of Highway 62 and Highway 116 in Morgan County. It was 10 percent contained early Thursday afternoon, according to the Tennessee Division of Forestry.
Residents said they first noticed the fire, which is above homes and businesses along Highway 62, at about 11 a.m. Wednesday. The fire burned vigorously at about 5 p.m. Wednesday, and it blew heavy smoke across Highway 62, reducing visibility on a section of road between Petros and Oliver Springs.
It’s the second fire this week near Petros. The other fire, which firefighters started battling on Sunday, is called the Bald Knob Road fire. That fire is roughly on the other side of Petros and about five miles north of Little Brushy. It appeared to have started in mountains east and northeast of Petros near the Anderson County-Morgan County line in an area that residents call the Gillontine Trail.
The Bald Knob Road fire held at 790 acres, and it was 100 percent contained on Thursday, according to a fire update from the Tennessee Division of Forestry early Thursday afternoon. Arson is also suspected in that fire.
Wednesday evening, firefighters appeared to have been setting back fires to contain the Bald Knob Road blaze, keeping it from homes on the north side of Petros, including off Armes Road at the base of the mountains. Earlier this week, they appeared to have been using at least three bulldozers in the mountains to help contain the fire.
Firefighters also appeared to use back fires and at least one bulldozer to help contain the Little Brushy fire on Wednesday. Residents reported seeing and hearing helicopters earlier in the day, and they said the helicopters had scooped up water at the Brushy Mountain Reservoir.
The Tennessee Division of Forestry and firefighters from Petros appeared to be among those who responded to the fires in the Petros area on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, in Anderson County, the Tennessee Division of Forestry reported that the Beech Grove Road fire had grown to 400 acres by Thursday. It was earlier reported at 213 acres. Firefighters have been battling that blaze since Saturday. It’s also a suspected arson, and it was 75 percent contained Thursday afternoon, the Tennessee Division of Forestry said. Beech Grove Road is northwest of Rocky Top, the former Lake City.
That’s the seventh significant wildfire in Anderson County this month as the state, sometimes with help from local and out-of-state firefighters, battles between about 50 to 90 fires at a time as drought-like conditions persist in the Southeast. About half of the fires in Tennessee have been arsons, and six of the seven in Anderson County have been listed as arsons. The one exception was a fire that had debris listed as the cause, but even in that case, firefighters said the fire appeared to have grown after it had been contained when someone appeared to reset it.
Most of the Anderson County fires have been in rough, rugged terrain off Highway 116, a mountain road in the northern part of the county, although there was one smaller brush fire on a ridge above Yarnell Road in Claxton, near South Clinton.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has declared a regional burn ban that includes Anderson, Knox, Loudon, Morgan, and Roane counties, and there is a $2,500 reward for a tip that leads to an arson arrest and conviction.
There was a light rain that started Wednesday evening and appeared to have ended by Thursday morning, but it didn’t seem to dump a lot of rain. East Tennessee received less than 0.1 inches, according to the Tennessee Division of Forestry.
A strong storm system is expected to move into the state early next week, bringing more precipitation, state officials said.
On Thursday, the Tennessee Division of Forestry reported 72 active fires that have burned 26,138 acres.
Update: On November 27, the Tennessee Division of Forestry said the Bald Knob Road fire was 1,254 acres, the Little Brushy fire was 392 acres, and the Beech Grove Road fire was 360 acres. All three fires were 100 percent contained.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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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