Burn ban issued in several counties as wildfires stress resources

15 acres in Lewis County destroyed

Persistent drought conditions and wildfires in middle and east Tennessee prompted Governor Bill Haslam to issue burn bans in 51 counties across the region this week.

Officials with the Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division are working closely with fire departments in several counties to extinguish fires that are ravaging portions of the Cumberland region of the state.

Lewis County is on a level 3 alert according to Lewis County Fire Chief Steve Vineyard who firmly stated a burn ban is in effect for all of the county.  The ban includes campfires, and the burning of brush, vegetation, household waste or construction debris, any open burn, as the parched land is a tinderbox.  The ban will remain in effect until December 15 or until significant precipitation is received.

A violation of a burn ban is punishable as a Class A misdemeanor which carries a fine of $2,500 and/or up to 11 months, 29 days in jail.

Last Friday, 15 acres in Lewis County burned in a wildfire, Vineyard reported, on the Natchez Trace Parkway near Jack’s Branch.  Lewis County Fire Department responded to assist the Tennessee Department of Forestry.

Currently the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) Division of Forestry is fighting 67 wildfires across nearly 16,000 acres in the Cumberland and East Tennessee districts.

Investigators with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s (TDA) Agriculture Crime Unit, along with authorities in Sequatchie and Monroe Counties and the State Fire Marshal’s office have arrested two people suspected in separate arson cases.

“Resources are stretched thin to respond,” Tim Phelps, Department of Agriculture public information officer said.  More than 300 employees and 100 seasonal employees have been joined by overhead teams from Florida and hand crews from Nevada and Oregon to fight the fires, he continued.  “It is a tremendous help to have these folks help but the situation has not been alleviated.”

Other partners include employees of the State Parks, TEMA and local volunteer fire departments from the affected areas, he added.

To date in 2016, about 1,238 wildfires have burned across the state. Almost 50 percent of those are suspected arson, the State reports.

Arson activity may be reported via the arson hotline, 1-800-762-3017, 24 hours a day or to the TDA Ag Crime Unit at 1-844-242-7463.

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