More than 60 wildfires still burn in Tennessee; Arson suspected in nearly half

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

SODDY DAISY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Wildfires are still burning across both southern and eastern Tennessee on Tuesday, affecting the air quality in several areas.

While the code orange air quality alert has expired for much of Middle Tennessee, it remains in effect for Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Tri-Cities region.

More than 200 people have been hospitalized in Chattanooga for shortness of breath and other breathing difficulties related to the circle of wildfires surrounding the city, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

Fifteen new fires were reported in the last 24 hours at the time of this report, impacting another 293 acres of land, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA).

As of 2 p.m., there were 67 fires burning in total and more than 15,914 acres burned.

Here is a look at major fires:

  • Poe Road (Hamilton) 550 acres, 60% contained
  • Mowbray (Hamilton) 800 acres, 70% contained
  • White Oak Circle (Morgan) 1888 acres, 70% contained
  • Flippers Bend (Hamilton) 1000 acres, 95% contained
  • Bench Bluff (Bledsoe) 1,800 acres, 95% contained
  • Neddy Mountain (Cocke) 1000 acres, 100% contained
  • Smith Mountain (Sequatchie) 960 acres, 100% contained
  • Cliff Tops (Marion) 80 acres, 100% contained
  • Stiles (Monroe) 225 acres, 100% contained

Fire crews are working 16-hour days to try and get the fires under control. The biggest challenge for crews is battling the air quality.

The dry land has also complicated things because debris is catching fire, making it harder to contain the biggest blazes.

(Photo: WKRN)

RELATED: Brentwood firefighters use unique equipment to battle wildfires

Due to the drought, Governor Bill Haslam issued a regional burn ban on Monday that affects 51 counties in Tennessee, and the entire state remains under a Level 3 State of Emergency.

And according to the Associated Press, the Tennessee Valley Authority issued a burn ban Tuesday on its public lands across Tennessee and in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. The authority said its ban applies to anything that might produce an open flame.

Civil Air Patrol’s Tennessee Wing is also flying photography missions to check smoke conditions and take pictures of fire sites. Volunteers from the Knoxville, Chattanooga, Morristown, and Nashville have flown along Interstate 75 between Knoxville and Chattanooga. The pictures they take will assist emergency managers in making decisions on resources and tactics.

For more on Tennessee wildfire information as well as a list of burn bans in effect, visit BurnSafeTN.org.

Arson named cause of at least half of the wildfires

According to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA), around 1,238 wildfires have burned across the state so far this year.

Almost 50 percent of those are suspected arson.

On Tuesday, two men were arrested in separate incidents. Matthew Wallace, 27, of Alabama, is accused of igniting a wildfire in Sequatchie County just Monday. He is charged with setting fire to personal property or land.

Charles Martin, 50, of Madisonville, Tennessee, is accused of deliberately setting a fire on Gamble Road in Monroe County. He is charged with setting fire to personal property or land, reckless burning and resisting arrest.

Anyone with information on any arson cases is urged to call 1-800-762-3017. You can also report arson activity to the TDA Ag Crime Unit at 1-844-242-7463. Callers can remain anonymous and may receive as much as $2,500 for a tip that leads to an arson arrest and conviction.

Charles Martin (Courtesy: Tennessee Department of Agriculture)
Charles Martin (Courtesy: Tennessee Department of Agriculture)
Mathew Wallace (Courtesy: Tennessee Department of Agriculture)
Mathew Wallace (Courtesy: Tennessee Department of Agriculture)