Wildfires prompt calls for assistance at local and state level

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF

   More than 520 fires have blackened over 29,000 acres so far this month, and those numbers are likely to increase before the month is out.
   Nearly all of Carter County's volunteer fire departments have been called out in the last two weeks to help battle blazes in their districts. Roan Mountain appears to be the worst hit so far. A fire earlier this week near Ripshin Mountain charred more than 100 acres while another fire kindled Wednesday morning in the Old Railroad Grade area.
   "We've had six calls this week so far," said Roan Mountain Fire Chief Terry Proffitt.
   "The worst one we had was on Ripshin. They said they still had a few hot spots here and yonder, but it's basically out," he said.
   The fire on Railroad Grade consumed about five to 10 acres, according to Proffitt. State and U.S. Forest Service firefighters were called in and were still battling the blaze late Wednesday evening.
   The fire department also responded to a structure fire Wednesday afternoon in Roan Mountain which, in turn, caused a brush fire.
   "It was a small outbuilding. From what we found out the guy had a small freezer out there and had an extension cord running to it and his extension cord shorted out and caught the building on fire and caused a brush fire," Proffitt said.
   Stoney Creek and Hampton/Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Departments were called in to assist Roan Mountain firefighters. Avery County also responded to the structure fire, Proffitt said.
   "Them and Hampton are awful good to come and help us out," he said.
   According to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, wildfires in East and Middle Tennessee claimed the life of one firefighter when he was trapped by a wildfire in Overton County, while a fire just west of Pigeon Forge broke through a containment area Wednesday morning, destroyed a house and threatened about seven others. That blaze, at the foot of Bluff Mountain, could potentially threaten dozens of homes, according to the agency.
   Two Tennessee Army National Guard helicopters have been redeployed to fight the Sevier County fire.
   The Department of Agriculture on Wednesday morning requested and received a second fire suppression grant and a 40-person federal overhead crew consisting of U.S. Forest Service specialists who help with direction and control of federal and state responses, according to Jere Jeter, TDA assistant state forester. The state already had received federal help in the form of one fire suppression grant.
   Seven other forest service firefighting teams are scheduled to arrive this afternoon to provide relief for firefighters who are due to be demobilized, Jeter said.
   "The majority of these fires are the result of arson," Jeter added. "The good news is that eight persons have been arrested and more arrests are expected. The bad news is that this does not restore the acreage, the home, or certainly, most importantly, the life of our fallen comrade."