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Hawkins County forest fire a 2,000 acre uphill battle

7:02 PM, Nov 20, 2012   |    comments
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The haze on the horizon of Hawkins County is actually an area choked with smoke from a 2,000 acre forest fire.  Crews have struggled to contain the fire for the last five days along Short Mountain near Mooresburg.

"Since last Thursday we've been on a mountain here that is inaccessible by vehicles. It's accessible by dozers due to the rocky terrain. We can't just go take a truck and put this fire out," said Gary Murrell, director of Emergency Management for Hawkins County.  "We have guys trying to cut lines by hand to keep the fire contained."

Murrell said a steady rotation of up to 80 firefighters from several counties have worked to stop the flames from spreading.  However, forestry officials say Mother Nature has not provided any assistance.  There are lots of shifting winds and no rain in sight.

"The fire weather is just so bad right now in spots," said Nathan Waters, Assistant District Forester with the Tennessee Forestry Division. "We have a lot of concern because there is no rain in the forecast.  On Friday I think that a front is supposed to come through, but we're not supposed to get any moisture and we will get wind."

Short Mountain is a steep and rocky ridge covered with a blanket of dry vegetation.  Firefighters have burned some of the areas around houses to provide a buffer for residents.  Fire trucks that are unable to access the fire above have stood guard at homes along the base of the mountain.

"And that's our main focus right now is protect houses," said Waters.

"We counted and had 126 structures that are in danger or have been in danger from the fire, but so far we have not lost a single structure.  One of the main things we're dealing with is the smoke.  Some residents have had to be moved out because of respiratory problems," said Murrell.

While the fire has spared homes, Murrell said there have been some close calls.

"We have a tower site here on Short Mountain for all of the communications. It [the fire] got to the tower site before we got to it. We had propane tanks and everything sitting there and we're just lucky it didn't impinge the tanks."

The clouds of smoke can also impair visibility on heavily-traveled routes such as Highway 11W. 

"We've put up warning signs for people to use caution, because the wind can shift and push that smoke in like a thick fog," said Waters.

For now crews can only attempt to cut lines to keep the fire contained until it burns itself out.

"The main thing people need to know we are doing everything we can.  I know we've been criticized at times for not doing some of the things you see crews do to fight the large forest fires out west, but unfortunately we do not have those kind of resources.  You know, we're doing the best we can."

In addition to the large forest fire, a few other fires have been set in Hawkins County.  Investigators say the fires are arson.  If you have any information about who may have started the fires, authorities urge you to call the confidential Tennessee arson hotline at 1-800-762-3017.

The extremely dry weather combined with the amount of firefighters already occupied with current fires has also forced several counties to stop issuing burn permits.

 

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