Fires, strong winds impact local community

Published 6:18 pm Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Photo Contributed by Forestry Technician James Heaton A wildfire along Anderson Road in the western end of Carter County burned Monday night and into the morning on Tuesday before firefighters were able to contain it.

Photo Contributed by Forestry Technician James Heaton
A wildfire along Anderson Road in the western end of Carter County burned Monday night and into the morning on Tuesday before firefighters were able to contain it.

A weather system that moved through the region Monday night and into Tuesday morning brought some much needed rain but it also brought strong winds that caused some damage throughout Carter County and caused difficulties for firefighters battling a wildfire.
Firefighters with several of the county’s volunteer fire departments were called to a wildfire on Anderson Road, which is located on the western edge of the county near Washington and Unicoi Counties. According to radio transmissions between emergency workers, the strong winds were making it difficult and dangerous for firefighters to battle and contain the wildfire.
Around midday on Tuesday, Forestry Technician James Heaton with Tennessee Division of Forestry told the Elizabethton Star the wildfire on Anderson Road had been contained. The fire burned around 15 acres of land in that community.
The Forestry Service was able to assist local firefighters in constructing containment around the fire and once winds died down the rain that moved in also assisted with efforts to battle the blaze.
“We just had a crew checking out the scene,” Heaton said Tuesday afternoon. “We can say the fire is 100 percent contained. We also sent folks to a fire that was reported over at Tiger Creek to check on the situation there. Everything seems to be OK. We received some relief from the rain and we’re expecting to receive more rain tonight.”
While rain is expected, Heaton added that smoke could be around from the fires for several days. Due to “thousand-hour fuels” (large trees), it takes longer for items to burn, causing more smoke.”
“We’re expecting more relief, but smoke will be around,” Heaton added.
The technician was wrapping up work in the county and added he, along with other team members, will be heading down to Knoxville to prepare deployment to the fires that impacted Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge to help relieve workers that have been on scene.
In addition to the fire on Anderson Road, members of the county’s volunteer fire departments were also dispatched to two other reported fires on Tuesday evening — a small fire along Highway 143 near the Convention Center at Roan Mountain State Park and a structure fire at a vacant home in Watauga. According to reports, both of those fires were the result of downed power lines.
The winds that accompanied the rain in the area Monday evening also caused damage across the county in the form of downed trees which blocked roadways and knocked out power to some areas.
“We had several roads that we had to clear out,” Carter County Road Superintendent Roger Colbaugh said Tuesday afternoon. “We had some trees that had fallen across roads or onto power lines and a lot of debris.”
Crews from the Carter County Highway Department were out working to clear roads late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, Colbaugh said.
Among the areas affected by damage from the winds were Stoney Creek, Roan Mountain, Poga, Dave Buck Road, Anderson Road and Wilbur Dam Road, Colbaugh said, adding those were just a few of the locations.
“It’s spots all over the county,” Colbaugh said.
Carter County Schools operated on a two hour delay Tuesday morning, and Colbaugh said his crews used that time to work on the roads.
“During the extra two hours before school started we got out and checked the bus routes to make sure they were open,” Colbaugh said.
The downed trees were the reasoning behind the school system’s decision to delay the start of school on Tuesday morning according to school officials.
“We had a lot of downed trees late last night they weren’t going to be able to get to right away,” said Wayne Sams, Transportation Director for the Carter County School System. “Even this morning there were a few places we couldn’t get a bus into.”
After hearing reports of damage across the county, Sams said he spoke with Director of Carter County Schools Dr. Kevin Ward and the decision was made to operate on a two hour delay. This would not only give the Highway Department more time to clear the roads, but he said it would also improve safety by waiting until more daylight was available for the drivers to help them see any obstacles in the roads.
Sams praised the work of the Highway Department in getting the roads cleared of trees and debris. “They have done a wonderful job. They worked through the night and early this morning,” Sams said. “We wouldn’t have been able to have done what we did today, even with a delay, without them.”
Other than fallen trees and power outages, Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Smith said he had received no other reports of storm impacts in the county.
“The biggest thing we’ve been doing is trying to get some assistance to Gatlinburg,” Smith said.
That assistance is coming in the form of firefighters and equipment from the Elizabethton Fire Department and the Watauga, Stoney Creek, Elk Mills and Hampton Volunteer Fire Departments.
“We’ve got about 16 individuals from the various departments down there already,” Smith said on Tuesday afternoon. “Our folks sure stepped up and sent a lot of personnel and equipment last night and this morning. They went down there and went straight to work.”

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