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November 14, 2016

TEMA Update on Drought and Wildfires, 11-14-16, 12 p.m., Central


HIGHLIGHTS

• Level 3 – State of Emergency remains in place due to ongoing drought conditions and wildfire threats.

• Code Orange air quality alert for east and middle Tennessee. Air quality information is available at https://tn.gov/environment/article/apc-tennessee-air-quality-forecasting-program

• SEOC staffed and operational in Nashville with State agency partners engaged in drought and wildfire response and situational coordination.

• Next rain chance expected into the weekend.


TENNESSEE ARSON HOTLINE: 1-800-762-3017


CURRENT SITUATION


Wildfire smoke and haze is intruding large portions of middle and east Tennessee from the wildfires burning in the state and in states bordering Tennessee, including Kentucky. Residents in these areas of Tennessee will see and smell smoke. Residents do not need call 9-1-1 unless they see smoke actually rising from the ground.


The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) activated the Tennessee Emergency Management Plan and set in place a Level 3 – State of Emergency, effective at 7 p.m., Central, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016.


The State of Emergency allows multi-jurisdictional engagement of local, state, and federal personnel and resources to be sure Tennessee is positioned to respond effectively and quickly to protect lives and property from what is emerging as a prolonged drought and wildfire threat in the state.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also granted Tennessee two fire assistance grants to reimburse the state for costs associated with fighting the Smith Mountain wildfire in Sequatchie, Hamilton and Bledsoe County, and the Flippers Bend fire in Hamilton County.


Approximately 302 of Tennessee’s 480 water systems are experiencing some level of drought impact, ranging from moderate to exceptional. At least three counties have requested water for residents whose wells have run completely dry of water.


In the past month, an estimated 6,000 to 6,200 acres have burned due to wildfires in Bledsoe, Hamilton, Monroe, and Sequatchie counties.


Currently, there are 74 active fires in Tennessee impacting 13,224 acres. On Wed., Nov. 9, 2016, residents in 10 to 15 homes near the Flippers Bend fire in Hamilton County were evacuated. An additional wildfire in Hamilton County and wildfires in Campbell and Sequatchie counties are also threatening homes and property.


Relief from the drought and wildfire threat is not imminent as weather forecasts are not showing any significant precipitation in Tennessee through the remainder of 2016.


WILDFIRES


Active Fires (fought in the past 24 hours)
FIRES: 74 | ACRES BURNED: 13,224


Year to Date
TOTAL NUMBER OF FIRES: 1,211 | TOTAL ACRES BURNED: 34,633


Major Fires

• Flippers Bend (Hamilton) 1000 acres, 90% contained
• Poe Rd. (Hamilton) 550 acres, 40% contained
• Mowbray (Hamilton) 750 acres, 70% contained
• Smith Mtn. (Sequatchie) 960 acres, 100% contained
• Bench Bluff (Bledsoe) 1,400 acres, 100% contained
• Cliff Tops (Marion) 80 acres, 100% contained
• Neddy Mtn. (Cocke) 425 acres, 70% contained


Highway 25-70, between Bucks Way and Highway 340, in Cocke County will have rolling roadblocks until approximately 3 p.m. due to public safety concerns and the safety personnel fighting the Neddy Mtn. fire in that area.


Air Quality

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is expanding the Code Orange Air Quality Alert today to the following MSAs:

• Chattanooga
• Knoxville
• Great Smoky Mountains
• Tri-Cities
• Nashville


Wildfires along the plateau and in the Great Smoky Mountains have intensified and an inversion layer will keep smoke near the surface.


A Code Orange Air Quality Alert means that although the general public is not likely to be affected at this AQI range, persons with heart and lung disease, older adults and children are at greater risk from the presence of particles in the air.


Burn Bans (In Place Until Further Notice)

Bledsoe, Clairborne, Cumberland, Hamilton, Jefferson, Loudon, Polk, Marion, Monroe, Robertson, Sequatchie and Sevier counties

• The ban applies to all open-air burning including leaf and woody debris and construction burning, campfires and other fire activity outside of municipalities where local ordinances apply.
• Under state law, the Commissioner of Agriculture, in consultation with the State Forester, has the authority to issue burn bans at the request of county mayors under certain weather conditions. Requests from county mayors for a burn ban are considered in consultation with the State Forester based on a number of factors including weather, climate, fire danger and occurrence and resource availability.
• A violation of a Commissioner of Agriculture imposed burn ban is considered reckless burning and is punishable as a Class A misdemeanor which carries a fine of $2,500 and/or up to 11 months 29 days in jail.


DROUGHT


The area of extreme to exception drought in Tennessee is expanding. Approximately 107 water systems are experiencing extreme to exceptional drought conditions. Another 195 water systems are in the severe drought category.


Counties in the exceptional drought category include: Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, Meigs, McMinn, Monroe, Poke, Rhea, and Sequatchie.


Drought Resources

• County Ag extension agents are primary source of assistance for farmers.

• Hay availability website: http://picktnproducts.org

• The Farm Services Agency (FSA) has several of USDA’s disaster relief programs: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/disaster-assistance-program/index

• Agriculture Drought Information: https://extension.tennessee.edu/Pages/ANR-CED-Drought.aspx

• FSA has the Livestock Forage Program and Emergency Loans available to producers due to drought. In Tennessee if more information is needed about the Livestock Forage Program Ron Eldridge can be contacted at ron.eldridge@tn.usda.gov or 615-277-2620. For Emergency Loans contact James Welborn at James.welborn@tn.usda.gov or 615-277-2627.

• TDEC’s Division of Water Resources webpage for listing of water systems in varying stages of drought response: http://tn.gov/environment/topic/wr-drought-planning


RESPONSE ACTIVITIES


The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Nashville is staffed and TEMA coordination is ongoing through the SEOC with state and local partners involved in the wildfire response and drought monitoring. These partners include: 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, Tennessee Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.


TEMA is assisting with water deliveries last week to residents in Bledsoe and Carter counties who are experience shortages. Another delivery to Bledsoe County will occur this week.


Tennessee Army National Guard (TNARG) personnel are assisting with the wildfire response in providing TNARG helicopters for wildfire water drops and observation missions.


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


WEATHER FORECAST

Air quality not likely to improve over the next couple of days in the southeastern portion of Tennessee as winds are not strong enough to clear the smoke out


Next best chance of rain is into next weekend for most of the state. Relative humidity expected to rise with the approach of that precipitation.


Over the next few days, expect highs temperatures in the mid to upper 60s and lows in the upper 30s


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.