KNOXVILLE - Months of dry weather and little rain have caused problems across East Tennessee, but none as readily visible as the numerous wildfires fires raging throughout the area and the resulting smoke drifting across the region.
A Code Red Air Quality Alert was in effect for the Knoxville, Great Smoky Mountains and Chattanooga areas through 4 p.m. Tuesday. At that level of alert, ground level ozone concentrations may "approach of exceed unhealthy standards," according to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
"Everyone may experience health effects. Members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects," the alert said.
The alert included 13 counties in East Tennessee.
Though no new Air Quality Alert has been issued for Wednesday, the smoke may linger in the air, but it won't be at the same levels.
On Monday, more than a dozen fires burning in Anderson and Campbell counties caused some visibility issues along I-75 north of Knoxville. As of Sunday, 17 wildfires were burning more than 3,400 acres in Campbell County, while three fires burning in Anderson County had consumed more 1,485 acres.
Even in counties without active fires, smoke from the surrounding area is causing hazy conditions across the region. There are no active fires in Roane County, but dispatchers there said they received numerous calls Monday from people wondering about smoke in the area. That smoke is most likely drifting in from fires in Morgan and Anderson counties.
The Air Quality Index for Knoxville was forecast at a "moderate" level Monday, but lowered to "good" by late afternoon. The AQI is forecast to rise to "unhealthy" on Tuesday. An "unhealthy" level means that people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion, and it's recommended other people reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outside.
Nathan Waters, the Assistant Director of Forestry for the East Tennessee District, said extreme dry conditions aren't projected to improve anytime soon. With little rain in sight, the Tennessee Department of Forestry will not be issuing any debris burning permits to people in East Tennessee anytime soon.
Knox, Shelby, Madison and Davidson Counties are all exempt from this because burn permits are issued within the county. Knox County is currently under a mandatory open burning ban, including for current burn permit holders.
The Department of Agriculture has also issued agriculture burn bans for Claiborne, Jefferson, Loudon and Sevier Counties.
According to the forestry division's latest information, there are 96 active wildfires burning close to 9,000 acres of land in the state right now. Most of that activity is focused here in East Tennessee and were due to intentionally set fires.
Campbell County, in particular, has been hard-hit by wildfires. The county has 17 active fires that have burned 3,500 acres. Anderson County has had similar problems, with three active fires that have burned close to 1,500 acres.
To date this year, there have been 1,096 wildfires in Tennessee that have burned close to 28,000 acres.
For the latest wildfire report, including the location and size of current active wildfires, you can visit the Department of Agriculture's "BurnSafeTN" page.
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