Tennessee National Guard joins wildfire battle

Nov. 11, 2016: The Tennessee Army National Guard is providing aerial assistance to fight several wildfires across the state.

Tennessee is still under a state of emergency as drought keeps fires burning across the state.

Now the Tennessee Army National Guard is getting involved, as those fires continue to threaten several homes in Hamilton County.

"We could tell just flying in that we were going to have our work cut out for us today," said Captain David Swan.

On Friday, his mission took him to the skies above East Tennessee, dumping thousands of gallons of water on those fires.

"Just flying in here, we could see probably a dozen different fires probably within 10 miles of where we're standing right now," said Captain Swan.

He boarded his Black Hawk helicopter as our crew hopped on board a Lakota helicopter and trailed behind.

Captain Swan piloted one of two Black Hawks that picked up as much as 700 gallons of water at a time, then spread it over as many wildfires as they can.

"We're basically taking off every time, with the absolute maximum weight this aircraft can lift as we're coming out of the water," he said.

The aircraft, with a full tank of gas and a full water bucket, weighs 22,000 pounds.

Since Sunday, forestry officials have given the Tennessee Army National Guard daily direction on which parts of the state need aerial assistance, but with new flames sparking up nearly every day, it's not an easy job.

Crews say at least two new Hamilton County fires started on Friday morning alone.

"It appears to be getting better. But there are definitely multiple, multiple fires out there that seem to be popping up in other locations," said pilot Major Casey Lodes. 

On Friday, their biggest focus was protecting the 30 homes currently threatened by wildfires in Hamilton County. The Tennessee Forestry Division hopes to get those residents back in their homes by the end of the night.

"Many of us have deployed multiple times overseas, but we also like to take care of our fellow Tennesseans back here," said Major Lodes.

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Firefighters from all over the country are mobilizing in Knoxville to fight the dozens of fires currently burning in Tennessee and surrounding states, along with the 

With the south is in the midst of an extreme drought, thousands of acres are burning, threatening some homes and blanketing a wide area with smoke.

On Friday, the Tennessee Army National Guard gave us an aerial view of what firefighters are facing. They took members of the media up in a LUH-72 (Lakota) helicopter to survey the fires from the air.

They took off from Hixson, near Chattanooga, and flew over much of Hamilton County and surrounding areas. In the past month alone, TEMA reported that 6,000 to 6,200 acres have burned due to wildfires in Bledsoe, Hamilton, Monroe and Sequatchie counties alone.

On Thursday, TEMA declared a Level 3 State of Emergency in response to the continued threat of drought and wildfires across the state. Level 3 means the state is facing a "serious emergency."

As part of their efforts to battle those wildfires, state officials have asked for help from out west. More than 50 fire crews, along with aviation assets and nearly 150 engines, are staging in Knoxville, then will be deployed to fight fires in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, and North Carolina.

As of Thursday, the counties in our area hardest hit by fire were: 

Anderson County:  4 fires burning 4230 acres
Campbell County:  7 fires burning  620 acres
Cumberland County: 3 fired burning 508 acres
Morgan County:  5 fires burning 600 acres

 

(© 2016 WBIR)


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