300-acre fire continues to spread; arson suspected
Published 1:53 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2016
A fire that was reported at approximately 2 p.m. Monday occupying five acres was reportedly burning on 300 acres and counting Tuesday morning.
“It’s spreading in every direction,” said James Heaton, technician with the Tennessee Division of Forestry.
Heaton said arson is suspected in the fire, which began right near the side of Old Railroad Grade Road in Roan Mountain.
“The fire began between Tower Road and the prison,” Heaton said. “We are calling it an arson fire, and it is under investigation.”
United States Forest Service, Tennessee Division of Forestry and numerous volunteer fire departments from Tennessee and North Carolina are fighting the fire from land and air. Heaton said a crew of 20 people would arrive from Florida Tuesday, making the total number of personnel on scene approximately 70.
He said on Tuesday afternoon, a plane dropped fire retardant on it, and on Monday and Tuesday, a helicopter was flying over dropping water on it.
It is burning on private land and on Cherokee National Forest, with about half the fire on each, he said.
“If everything goes to our fire lines, it will be burning mostly on Cherokee National Forest land,” he said.
Though no structures have been reported as damaged, he said the rapid growth of the fire does pose a threat to the surrounding area.
“Thus far, no structures have been damaged that we know of, other than several vehicles which were destroyed on private property,” Heaton said. “At an y time, a structure could be threatened.”
He said initial attempts to contain the fire Monday, though aggressive, were not sufficient due to numerous spot fires sparking outside the containment line.
“We tried to contain it with a ‘dozer line, but it was unsuccessful due to spotting,” Heaton said. “Spotting happens when one ember will go up and land and start a new fire. It’s extremely dry whenever you get spotting.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, a section of the Appalachian Trail and a section of Old Railroad Grade Road were closed. He said the likelihood of the prison being evacuated is “not likely at all.”
As to how long the fire would burn, Heaton said it will burn till it rains.
“This fire is zero percent contained, but we hope to get some containment by tonight,” he said.
Two other fires continue to burn, though Heaton said both are mostly contained.
Heaton said one in the Shook Branch area along Watauga Lake was still burning Tuesday on about 54 acres. It was reported Saturday at around 8 p.m., and he said it is under investigation as human cause is suspected.
Another fire, which sparked on Monday near Heaton Branch Road in Butler, is still burning, but Heaton said it is 100 percent contained.
“That one was caused by power lines,” Heaton said. “What likely happened is a branch fell on the lines.”
He said that fire occupies about 50 acres.
Thus far, Heaton said no structure or person, other than the cars in Roan Mountain, have been reported damaged.