Wildfires scorch Bluff Mountains; 10 families evacuated as blaze nears

Sunday, November 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Most of the 10 families forced to evacuate their Bluff Mountain homes returned Saturday as firefighters beat back threatening wildfires.

``The fire was up to a very few yards from the homes,'' said Danette Conner of the Sevier County Rescue Squad.

A fire consumed one home and an unoccupied building late Friday, prompting the evacuation. No injuries were reported.

But authorities worried that winds associated with a cold front would move through the state by Monday, worsening conditions.

The fire was one of several burning in the eastern half of the state _ from northeast Tennessee to Knoxville, west to the Cumberland Plateau and south to Chattanooga.

Robin Bible, operations officer with the state Division of Forestry, said the state's largest fire on Saturday was a 4,900-acre blaze on the Fentress-Overton county line near the community of Manson.

``It is in containment, but of course it could blow out anytime,'' Bible said.

A 2,300-acre fire about five miles away in Overton County, which killed a firefighter, was contained, Bible said.

``Everything is a little bit better today than yesterday,'' Bible said Saturday.

Dave Freeland, information officer with the California Interagency Incident Management Team, said crews on Bluff Mountain have faced burning conditions more typical of southern California blazes.

Freeland is a member of one of several management teams that have arrived from California and Florida to coordinate efforts in fighting the wildfires that have charred more than 30,000 acres since October. U.S. Forest Service teams from the Southwest also are in Tennessee to help battle the blazes.

Despite the threat of increased winds, Freeland said new crews from throughout the country and weekend help from local volunteer fire departments should help contain the Bluff Mountain fire soon.

``We are hoping for 100 percent containment by Monday afternoon,'' Freeland said.

Nine people have been arrested on arson charges.