Crews work long hours to extinguish 60-plus wildfires in Tennessee

Officials report 17,493 acres have burned across state

A firefighter battles a wildfire Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Clayton, Ga. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Valley Authority issued a burn ban on its public lands across Tennessee and in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Adam Rondeau has said the agency is tracking wildfires that have burned a total of 80,000 acres across the South. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
A firefighter battles a wildfire Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Clayton, Ga. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Valley Authority issued a burn ban on its public lands across Tennessee and in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Adam Rondeau has said the agency is tracking wildfires that have burned a total of 80,000 acres across the South. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WKRN) – Fire crews are working long hours trying to extinguish more than 60 fires across the State of Tennessee.

“It was just raining ashes at one point,” one resident told News 2.

As the flames continue to scorch the hills of southeast Tennessee, those living nearby are keeping a close eye on the front lines.

“It was scary but you kind of just want to stand here and watch.”

Donna Abbott-Smith lives along the boundary of the Mowbray fire not far from Chattanooga and spotted the flames last week.

“It just continues to spread, everybody was evacuated on Thursday,” Abbott-Smith told News 2.

News 2 spent Wednesday morning with crews inside the fire boundary along Mowbray Mountain.

Crews not only are fighting the fire that is moving quickly and dealing with Mother Nature but also with the rocky, dangerous terrain.

Forestry crews did get extra hands Tuesday night.

“We are going to take those crews and put them on Poe and really do a lot of work over there today,” said Julie Allen with the Florida Forestry Department.

However, Mother Nature is putting them on the clock.

“We’ve got some impending weather coming this weekend and we really want to get on those wildfires, make sure we are cooling off those hotspots.”

Allen says their top priority will be to work fast before the breezy weather moves in this weekend.

“The wind shifts could push that fire but we are going to do a lot of work today on those fires,” said Allen.

Wildfires across the state and effect on air quality

As of 7 p.m., officials say they responded to 17 new fires statewide on Wednesday, covering over 170 acres of land.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) says six of seven fires in the Cumberland District were suspected arson.

In the East Tennessee District, there were nine fires started Wednesday that burned 80 acres—all of which are suspected arson.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has issued a proclamation declaring a regional ban on burning in 51 counties in response to the ongoing drought and destructive wildfires throughout Middle and East Tennessee.

The Governor’s regional burn ban applies to open-air burning near woodlands and includes a prohibition of campfires, and burning of brush, vegetation, and construction debris. The burning of household waste is never allowed under state air quality laws.

Marshall, Robertson and Sumner counties are under a burn ban instated by the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

The major fires through the state are as follows:

  • Neddy Mountain (Cocke County) 1,116 acres, 85 percent contained
  • White Oak Circle (Morgan County) 1,888 acres, 100 percent contained
  • Flippers Bend (Hamilton County) 979  acres, 95 percent contained
  • Poe Road (Hamilton County) 707 acres, 70 percent contained
  • Mowbray (Hamilton County) 830 acres, 70 percent contained
  • Hobbstown (Sequatchie County) 180 acres, 100 percent contained
  • Sunshine (Sequatchie County) 65 acres, 100 percent contained
  • Bench Bluff (Bledsoe County) 1,400 acres, 100 percent contained
  • Cave Cove (Marion) 100 acres, 30 percent contained

Poor air quality and reduced visibility due to wildfires are expected to continue through at least Thursday.

As smoke from several wildfires moves across the state, the Tennessee Department of Health is reminding residents there is an increased risk for a range of health effects, particularly for those with existing respiratory problems, pregnant women, the elderly and young children.

On Wednesday, the Tennessee Department of Health reminded people there is an increased risk for a range of health effects due to the wildfires. Evidence of potentially harmful exposure to smoke may include difficulty with breathing, light headedness, dizziness, chest pain and other symptoms.

Officials recommend considering the use of portable air filters, keeping their home’s air filters clean, limiting outdoor activity, avoid using fireplaces or gas stoves, avoid using vacuuming, and to not use dust masks as they may cause more difficulty breathing.

A cold front is also expected to pass through the state on Friday, which will bring a better chance of rain the state desperately needs.

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