ROGERSVILLE - A brush fire in an area of Hawkins County known as Town Knob kept Rogersville blanketed with smoke much of Monday and was probably set intentionally, according to state forestry officials.
Firefighters with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture's Forestry Division brought a bulldozer to the top of Town Knob Monday just north of Rogersville to cut off the spread of the fire before it reached the nearby Hawkins County Central Dispatch communications tower.
There were also firefighters from the Rogersville and Striggersville fire departments on hand to protect several nearby residences which were put at risk by the flames. Technically part of the brush fire was inside the Rogersville city limits and part was in the Striggersville Volunteer Fire Department protection territory.
Smoke from the fire was visible from nearly everywhere in Rogersville, and for a time the haze filled the streets of downtown.
Rogersville Assistant Fire Chief David Jackson was concerned about high winds in the early afternoon which fed flames on Town Knob and threatened to expand the burn area. The shifting wind directions put a few homes along North Holston Street at risk, as well as other homes in the hollows north of Highway 11-W.
"We're keeping water trucks staged at the bottom of the hill, so if the fire starts coming back in this direction we'll be ready for it," Jackson said.
Gusting winds and frequent wind direction changes made the fire unpredictable and hard to bring under control. Firefighters remained on the hill well into the evening attempting to keep the fire contained.
Forestry Division area forester Richard Van Inwegan said the fire may have been arson or a careless campfire set where North Holston Street dead ends near the top of the hill at Town Knob.
There were several beer bottles and soda cans in the area, and Van Inwegan said the place appears to be a hangout.
Bill Burns, who owns the property at the end of North Holston Street with his sister, came to check on the fire damage Monday afternoon while forestry officials were still at the scene.
Although the area is posted for no trespassing, Burns said trespassers frequently come to the area and actually tore down a fence blocking the area at one time.
"I think the fire started here simply by the way it's gone up both ridges," Van Inwegan said from the top of North Holston Street. "It's heading toward the 911 radio tower, and we've got a bulldozer and several people with rakes and blowers, and we're just trying to rake a line around the fire."
By late afternoon much of the smoke that had blanketed Rogersville had dissipated, but the problems at the top of the mountain were not over. As the sun went down, local and forestry firefighters remained on Town Knob battling the flames.
"What we're trying to do is get the eastern end cut off first because that's where the communications are for 911," Van Inwegan said. "Evidently Striggersville is going to bring a crew up here and try to get a handle on the westernmost fire. It's backing down the north side, and humidity and wet underneath the leaves may actually put the fire out there.
"When the wind dies down, that's going to help us out a lot too. For the time being the fire departments are staged at the bottom taking care of the structures, and we're going to stay up here until it's safe enough that it's not going to escape our lines and burn any structures down."