Firefighters protect homes as Hawkins County fire burns out of control

Jeff Bobo • Nov 19, 2012 at 9:47 AM

ROGERSVILLE — By the time the sun set Monday evening, Hawkins County’s Short Mount forest fire — which started Thursday afternoon — had scorched about 2,200 acres west of Rogersville.

The focus for Tuesday was going to be preventing the fire from spreading east to Stone Mountain.

Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency director Gary Murrell said the majority of the area already burned is on the south side of Short Mountain overlooking the Lakeview community facing Highway 11-W.

He said there are about 2,000 more acres on the north side of Short Mountain that are still in danger of burning.

Firefighters are also concerned that if the fire jumps lines on the eastern base of Short Mountain along Clouds Creek Road it will make its way on to Stone Mountain and start working its way northeast toward the Pressmen’s Home community.

“If the fire gets on to Stone Mountain there will be no way of stopping it,” Murrell said. “We’ve been on that mountain before, and it’s all trees, brush and rocks. Most of it is inaccessible by foot, and there’s no way to get a dozer up there.”

The main goal Monday night was protecting structures and holding the Clouds Creek line. Murrell said other areas where there are no homes or buildings would just have to burn.

As of Monday night no structures had been lost in the fire, Murrell added.

Five crews with the Tennessee Forestry Division worked Monday with dozers and rakes building containment lines around the fire. They, along with area volunteer firefighters, will be on hand Tuesday protecting homes and the eastern boundary of the fire.

A good rain shower would end the problem and send everyone home, but there’s no rain in the forecast for the rest of the week.

Ted Daily, who is the East Tennessee District forester, said Monday there are no air water tankers available in the Southeast to assist with this fire.

It’s going to be fought with dozers, rakes and manpower, Daily said.

“The fire is pretty well cut off with the (Short Mountain Silica) mine road on the west end, and then we’ve got a line off the north side of the mountain,” Daily said. “It’s probably going to back down along two rows along both sides of the mountain. We have three dozers on the north side of the mountain that are going in to put lines around structures there. The fire is just slowly backing down these extremely steep slopes ... and we’re doing the same thing on this (south) side of the mountain.”

The areas where structures are most in danger are along Clouds Creek, which curves around the bottom of the east and north sides of Short Mountain, as well as houses on roads off of Highway 11-W that go up hollows on the south side of Short Mountain.

“It’s too steep along the sides for us to operate, so we’re just letting the fire back down to the foot of the mountain and we’re protecting the structures there,” Daily said. “Wind has been a problem throughout this fire. We have a peculiar north, northeast wind. Typically the wind is out of the southwest, but that wind has pushed the fire right up the peak of the ridge, which has made this a very long fire.”

Daily added, “We have to let it burn where we can’t get to it. ...It’ll probably burn until we get good precipitation here. There’s a lot of fuel. There’s been logging in there. Dead pines from the pine beetle epidemic a few years ago. It burns good through the night, so we will probably be babysitting this thing until we get good precipitation. There’s none in the forecast. It’s a long job we have ahead of us.”

Murrell said anyone who fears the fire is getting too close to their home is advised to call 911. Also, there were some complaints Monday about the effect smoke was having on people with breathing problems. They are advised to turn off their central heat or air if the smoke gets into their home and to call 911 if the smoke causes serious health concerns.

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