BLOUNTVILLE - Firefighters believe a blown tire from a large truck may have sparked a brush fire that forced the closure of Route 394 near the Interstate 81 interchange for about two hours Sunday evening.
Sullivan County Volunteer Fire Department Chief Wendell Clark said the blowout occurred shortly before 6 p.m. on Route 394 across from the Island Road Freewill Baptist Church, where the hot tire landed in a pile of dry leaves in the ditch.
The fire quickly spread up the steep slope into a wooded area above the road, burning about two acres before being brought under control.
"Initially we were instructed that a structure was involved, but upon our arrival we learned that there was not a structure," Clark said. "But we had a heavily wooded area where this land in here has been logged out - lots of dry wood and brush laying around. We called in two additional departments, Bloomingdale and Avoca, to assist us."
Clark said he opted to close Route 394 between the Island Road intersection and I-81 due to heavy smoke.
The narrow stretch of two-lane highway where the fire took place also doesn't have a shoulder on either side, making for tight quarters for the firefighters and their equipment.
"I didn't want anyone getting run over," Clark said.
The closest fire hydrant was about a half-mile away near the I-81 interchange, and some volunteers ran a constant water relay with their tankers while others sprayed water on the hot spots along the hillside.
One Sullivan County volunteer, J.J. Williams, sustained burns to his hands and was treated at the scene but did not require hospitalization.
After being treated Williams continued fighting the blaze.
By about 7 p.m. the fire was contained and at 8 p.m. Route 394 was reopened.
"As long as this wind doesn't pick up, and as long it doesn't carry it up into the woods a little more, we'll be all right," Clark said.