Burn restriction in effect
Because of extremely dangerous conditions, the Tennessee Division of Forestry is not issuing burning permits in 24 East Tennessee counties, including Sevier.
"The humidity is low and the winds are up," said Nathan Waters, a spokesman for the division.
Leaves are on the ground, he noted, and they are dry. "We're afraid that if someone burned something, it could get out of control."
Burning will be restricted until further notice.
"We've got a lot of people irritated that they can't get permits," Waters said. "It's just worth waiting to burn the brush pile. It's not going to be the end of the world."
People waiting to obtain burning permits can call the Division of Forestry's Sevier County office, 429-7020, to learn whether they are being issued. They also can check burnsafetn.org. By state law, burning permits are required between Oct. 15 and May 15.
Wildfires have burned more than 11,000 acres in East Tennessee this year, according to the Division of Forestry.
"We've got a lot of people out on fires right now," said Waters, referring to firefighting personnel. "We don't want any new fires. That's just part of prevention."
Rain was forecast to fall early Tuesday, and that should ease the danger.
"The amounts won't be very high," said Sam Roberts of the National Weather Service in Morristown, "but there should be a little bit of rain, and that will help dampen the ground."
There will not be enough rain to put out fires, said Roberts, but "anything is better than nothing."
Roberts expects the relative humidity to rise: "That will be in our favor the next few days." There is a chance of rain this coming weekend, he said.
Pigeon Forge Fire Chief Tony Watson supports the burning ban.
"It's a good call," he said. "We could have a bad situation occur very quickly."
Wildfires present a unique challenge in Sevier County, Watson said. Because there are so many rental cabins, the risk of property damage is greater. Also, "Tourists don't know the regulations," he noted. "They may shoot off fireworks and cause a fire next to the cabin."
The burning restriction is "not a surprise," said Seymour Fire Chief Kevin Nunn. Firefighting activity in the region has been "constant" for the last five to seven days, he noted.
"I'm glad to see the restriction finally came into play," Nunn said. "I was getting tired of hearing all these departments getting called out for brush fires."
To Sevier County residents unhappy with the burn restriction, Nunn urges patience.
"A little bit of patience is better than burning your neighbor's house down," Nunn said. "Your brush, your debris, it will still be there tomorrow."
"We just want to encourage people to be safe," said the forestry division's Waters. "Don't throw cigarettes down. Be careful."