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November 8, 2016

TEMA Update on Drought and Wildfires in Tennessee, 11-8-16, 2 p.m., Central


HIGHLIGHTS

• Air quality alerts in place for 16 Tennessee counties, including the cities of Chattanooga and Knoxville.

• Slightly better chances of rain starting tomorrow in the whole East Tennessee region.

• More than 15 State agencies are engaging in the drought and wildfire response coordination and issue monitoring.


CURRENT SITUATION
Air quality is of concern today in cities and communities close to wildfire outbreaks, especially in East Tennessee, as fire crews hope a better chance of rain today will bring minor relief to the fire-fighting efforts.


The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has issued Code Red air quality alerts for Chattanooga, Knoxville, and the Great Smoky Mountains region.


The Tennessee Division of Forestry reported 27 new fires in the State broke out on Monday, impacting 200 plus acres. Forestry continues to deploy fire resources to address a number of significant outbreaks, including: the Flippers Bend and Mowbary fires in Hamilton County (smoke plumes visible from Chattanooga), the Smith Mountain fire in Sequatchie County, and the Coppinger Cove fire in Marion County.


Persistent, dry weather has significantly increased the wildfire threat along the Cumberland Plateau and eastward with many counties in the State, some of whom are addressing wildfires, also monitoring water supply issues.


The Tennessee Division of Forestry reports 96 fires active in Tennessee impacting 8,665 acres. Wildfire activity over the weekend included seven wildfires burning across Hamilton, Marion, and Sequatchie counties. In Campbell, Hancock, and Morgan counties a total of 400 acres have burned due to wildfires. One, 200 plus acre wildfire in Hamilton County was located 15 miles north of Chattanooga. Fire officials also responded to wildfires in Grundy and Sevier counties.


Drought monitoring also indicates a wider geographic footprint in Tennessee of extreme to exceptional drought conditions. All or parts of Bradley, Hamilton, McMinn, Marion, Meigs, Polk, Rhea, and Sequatchie counties currently have drought conditions in the highest range of exceptional. On Friday, the report listed only four Tennessee counties in the exceptional category.


Governors in Georgia and Kentucky have declared States of Emergency due to the large-scale wildfire threats and response operations ongoing in their states.


ISSUES BY AREA


Wildfires

Active Fires (fought in the past 24 hours):
FIRES: 47 | ACRES BURNED: >4,455

Calendar year to date
TOTAL NUMBER OF FIRES: 1,121 | TOTAL ACRES BURNED: 30,742


The Tennessee Division of Forestry responded to 21 new fires in the Cumberland and East Tennessee Districts yesterday plus 6 in the Highland Rim District and 1 fire in the West Tennessee District for a total of more than 214 acres (some estimated acreages were not yet known.


Causes included arson, escaped debris fire, equipment and dumped ashes from grill.


Flippers Bend fire (Hamilton Co), Coppinger Cove fire (Marion Co.), Smith Mountain fire (Sequatchie Co.), and a fire on Cumberland Trail #17 all have homes in vicinity.


The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has instituted burn bans for five counties: Claiborne, Jefferson, Loudon, Monroe, and Sevier. Agriculture does not expect any No Safe Burning Permits to be issued statewide until the State receives substantial precipitation.


Water Supply

Water systems in eight Tennessee counties are reporting drought issues. This includes systems in Bledsoe, Blount, Grundy, Marion, Sequatchie, Polk, Scott and Van Buren counties. Seven systems in these counties have enacted mandatory water conservation measures, with others issuing voluntary conservation notices. The primary threats to these local systems are the availability of water for drinking and hygiene, and for fire-fighting capabilities.


RESPONSE ACTIVITIES

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued Code Red air quality alerts today for 16 counties in Tennessee to include Hamilton, Marion, and Sequatchie in the lower Cumberland Valley, and Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, Morgan, Roane, Sevier, and Union counties in East Tennessee.

Tennessee Army National Guard (TNARG) personnel are assisting with the wildfire response in Hamilton County and TNARG helicopters made several water drops Sunday in the County.


Tennessee State Parks has officially issued burn bans for the following state parks:

• Pickett State Park/Pogue Creek Canyon
• South Cumberland State Park
• Cumberland Mountain State Park
• Fall Creek Falls State Park
• Norris Dam State Park
• Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park


The Drought & Wildfire Task Force is meeting bi-weekly with members to establish a common operating picture of the drought and wildfire threat to ensure effective coordination and risk communication among state and local partners.


Task Force members include representatives with the Tennessee departments of Agriculture and its Division of Forestry; Commerce and Insurance and the State Fire Marshal, Correction, Environment and Conservation, Health, Human Services, Military, and Transportation, and Tennessee State Parks, Tennessee Highway Patrol, and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The Tennessee Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (TN WARN), an agency providing mutual aid and assistance to utilities in the state, is also participating on the Task Force.


The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued a press release on Oct. 27, advising residents in a number southeastern Tennessee counties to voluntarily cut back on water use to ease drought conditions. The release recommended customers of the following water systems to temporarily limit water usage for non-essential purposes:

• Bledsoe County – Pikeville Water System
• Franklin County – Sewanee Utility District
• Grundy County – Big Creek Utility District, Tracy City Water System, Monteagle Public Utility Board
• Marion County – TN American Sequatchie Valley Water System, Griffith Creek Utility District
• Sequatchie County – Dunlap Water System, Cagel-Fredonia Utility District
• Van Buren County – Fall Creek Falls Utility District


WEATHER FORECAST

East TN – Cold front brings rain chances tonight of 50 to 60% for Knoxville and northward, and 20 to 30% south of Knoxville. Rain chances for Thursday to Monday are in the 30 to 40% range but another front on Saturday will bring increased wind speeds.


Middle TN – Warmer today with a slight chance of precipitation Wednesday. Temperatures fall to the middle-to-upper 30s Wednesday night with a chance of frost in counties along the Kentucky border. Cooler than normal temps by the weekend with around normal precipitation chances in the next 8 to 14 days.


West TN – The Memphis area received from one-tenth to one-third-of-an-inch of rain since yesterday. No more rain is expected for the next couple of weeks.


KEY MESSAGES

• Stay abreast of wildfire danger levels and heed warnings and bans on outdoor burning in your area.
• Remember, from October 15 through May 15, anyone starting an open-air fire in Tennessee within 500 feet of a forest, grassland, or woodland must secure a burning permit from the Division of Forestry. The free permit can be obtained by phone or on online at www.BurnSafeTN.org. Local jurisdictions may have other ordinances and permitting systems in place for open-air burning.
• Avoid burning on windy, dry days. When conditions are windy or dry, it is easy for open burning to spread out of control.
Closely supervise all outdoor fires. Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving.
• Have an adult present at all times when a bonfire, chiminea, fire pit, or outdoor fireplace is burning.
• A grill should be placed well away from buildings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches. If using a charcoal grill, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container.
• Establish wide control lines down to bare mineral soil at least five feet wide around any burn barrels and even wider around brush piles and other piled debris to be burned.
• If you burn in a burn barrel or other trash container, be sure it is equipped with a ½” mesh screen or metal grid to keep burning material contained.
• Avoid throwing lit cigarettes out of vehicles. This type of litter can quickly start grass fires that can lead to dangerous traffic situations, such as low visibility and congestion.
• Never park a vehicle over a pile of leaves. The heat from the vehicle’s catalytic converter or exhaust system could ignite the leaves below.
• Keep water and hand tools ready in case your fire should attempt to spread.
• In the unfortunate event that a fire does get out of control, call 911 immediately and wait in a safe place for the arrival of the local fire department.


About the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency: TEMA’s mission is to coordinate preparedness, response and recovery from man-made, natural and technological hazards in a professional and efficient manner in concert with our stakeholders. Follow TEMA on Facebook, TNDisasterInfo, on Twitter, @T_E_M_A, and at www.tnema.org.