No structures had been damaged as of Sunday evening, although the fire — described as about 200 acres in size on Saturday — had increased to about 1,800 acres as of late Sunday night, according to authorities.
Saturday night, however, firefighters had to be pulled from the front lines to rescue about 40 dogs and chickens in what is believed to be a dog-fighting and cock-fighting operation discovered by firefighters on Tater Hill Road off of Highway 11-W.
Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency director Gary Murrell said that during the course of battling the forest fire, firefighters came upon 20-22 dogs and 18-20 chickens and roosters in what appeared to be a dog/cock-fighting operation.
Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told the Times-News Sunday the suspected operation is now the subject of a criminal investigation, and although no arrests had been made he hoped to be able to release more information about that on Monday.
Murrell added, “It put a damper on the firefighting efforts last (Saturday) night because everybody had to pull off until we found out what it was. Then it took most available law enforcement and fire (personnel) to try to get all the dogs out.”
Pending the outcome of the investigation the dogs were being stored in four different counties including Hawkins, Jefferson, Hamblen and Washington.
Meanwhile, dry windy weather helped fan the flames Sunday.
As of Sunday evening the fire extended from Price Hollow Road at Choptack Road to Short Mountain Silica Road on the south side of Short Mountain; and from Price Hollow Road to Hicks Road on the north side of Short Mountain.
“It’s jumping all the (fire break) lines,” Murrell said Sunday. “Every time we get a line in it jumps the line, and today we’re getting to the point where there are a lot of houses in danger. We’ve got 40 (fire department) members with Forestry on top of Short Mountain. Half of them are coming off the north side and half of them are coming off the south side trying to put in hand lines and dozer lines to stop this thing.”
Murrell added, “That’s on the west end. We’ve got an east end to this fire that we’ve not even gotten to yet.”
As of late Sunday afternoon, the fire was within 100 feet of some houses. Some of the neighborhoods in danger included Price Hollow Road off of Choptack Road, Galbraith Springs Road and Loven Road,
“We’ve got people deployed to those areas with rakes, blowers and fire trucks right now,” Murrell said. “We’ve not lost a structure yet and we’re trying not to.”
Murrell added, “Our number one priority right now is protecting structures. The wind isn’t blowing bad down around 11-W, but when you get up into higher elevations it’s blowing pretty hard, which is causing us all kinds of problems. Right now we’re trying to stop it with dozer and hand lines. We’ve got it mapped off where every house is at, and if it gets close we put lines around it and back-fire it.”
The fire is believed to have started Thursday around 1:30 p.m. at the end of Roughhouse Road off of Highway 11-W west of Rogersville. Murrell said the exact cause isn’t known, but arson isn’t suspected.
Eight fire departments including six from Hawkins County and two from Grainger County had responded to the fire along with the state Forestry Division and Hawkins County EMS.