Fires still rage across Tennessee and Kentucky in Appalachians' worst fire outbreak in a decade

Tuesday, November 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) _ As 5,000 acres burned in eastern Tennessee, firefighters were patrolling scorched areas by foot and air to ensure that new blazes didn't flare up.

Robert Rhinehart, fire information officer with the Tennessee Division of Forestry, said Monday that substantial rain is needed to keep blazes from igniting again.

``The public seems to think if we get a little rain, the fire problems will all be over,'' Rhinehart said. ``That couldn't be farther from the truth.'' Moisture would stop some new fires, he said, but basically a light rain would wet the leaves without soaking in.

The last rainfall in the Chattanooga area was Oct. 25. More than 300 individual fires, several apparently caused by arsonists, have swept across some 25,000 acres of woodlands since the end of October.

``We are approaching one of our worst fire seasons,'' department spokesman Tom Womack said. By this time last year some 35,000 acres had burned, he said.

About 2,000 acres burned near the Kentucky border while a 200-acre blaze near Chattanooga and a 100-acre fire in northeast Tennessee charred portions of the state.

Twenty-three new fires covering about 1,000 acres were reported Monday in eastern Kentucky, said Gwen Holt, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Division of Forestry.

Kentucky's blazes have burned 146,500 acres so far this year. Blazes also have been triggered in Maryland, the Virginias and the Carolinas.

One death has been associated with the wildfires so far. Forestry firefighter Harold Strode, 46, was killed Saturday while cutting a fire line in Overton County about 100 miles east of Nashville.

Children were believed to be responsible for a 10-acre forest fire that destroyed a home during the weekend in eastern West Virginia's Berkeley County. About a dozen wildfires were burning out of control Monday in West Virginia, where fires have blackened more than 58,000 acres so far this year.

Other injuries have been minor and few buildings have been damaged.

Eight people have been arrested on arson charges in the past two weeks, primarily in East Tennessee.

Firefighters from Idaho and Arizona are in Tennessee helping to battle the blazes.