Permits soon required for burning brush

By Lesley Hughes
star staff

  The change of season not only brings cool, crisp weather; it also brings the changing color of leaves. In an effort to protect the Northeast Tennessee region from unnecessary reports of brush fires or destructible fires to our beautiful mountain land, the Forestry Division of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture will begin issuing burn permits on Oct. 15 marking the beginning of wildland fire season in Tennessee through May 15.
  The Forestry Division states anyone planning open-air burns within the close proximity of forests during this period is required to call the local State Forestry office for a burn permit.
  Greg Whitehead, Criminal Investigator for the Department of Agriculture, said issuing permits helps the Forestry Division, local law enforcement, and fire crews "keep a handle on all the fires in the county." The permit saves money and time when a concerned caller reports visible smoke in an area where a controlled burn is located. A phone call to the person who is issued a permit will check to see if the fire is still under control or if emergency crews are needed.
  Whitehead described the October through May fire season as, "when leaves fall out of the trees, the sun can bake the forest floor and heat it quicker in the fall and spring."
  Receiving a permit only requires answering a few questions over the phone and is free of charge, according to John Henderson, Fire Prevention Forester with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division. Questions include: name, address, what materials will be burnt, where the fire will be located, and the name of a local fire department. Whitehead said a permit will not be issued prior to two days before burning. Frequent weather condition changes prohibit forestry officials from issuing them more than two days ahead of time.
  Any item other than brush, leaves, tree limbs, or wood piles are not permitted by the forestry office. Burning permits for household items are issued through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
  Burning permits for Johnson and Carter Counties can be obtained by calling 725-3281 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. A permit number is issued to the caller to provide local law enforcement officials if necessary.
  Henderson warns that while fires in the 12 county district where he works have been relatively low this year because of the moderately wet conditions, "Rain yesterday doesn't mean we can't have fires today, especially if we get wind and warm temperatures."
  The National Weather Service in Morristown has advised fire agencies across the region to expect drier conditions in the coming months and below normal precipitation in early spring. Such conditions increase the likelihood of wildfires - about half of which start from careless outdoor burning.
  "And with the increasing number of homes in this 'Wildlife Urban Interface' (residents) should make it a point to regularly clean their gutters, remove dead vegetation from flower beds, and maintain at least 30-feet of 'defensible space' around the home.''
  "Defensible space," explains Henderson, "is open, free from flammable vegetation and low-hanging limbs, and can best be described as lean, clean and green."
  The Forestry Division can provide recommendations to homeowners living in the Wildland Urban Interface who would like to make their homes "Firewise."