Progress made on some wildfires in the South, while others still grow

Above: Firefighters operate leaf blowers on the Chestnut Knob Fire. The fire is 6 miles south of Morganton, NC and at the last report grew by 9 acres. Undated and  uncredited InciWeb photo.

While several large fires in the southern states are still actively spreading, firefighters have made progress on dozens of others.

On Monday the Southern Geographic Area reported 52 large uncontained fires, for a total of 133,146 acres. There were 185 new fires of all sizes for 1,477 acres; most of those were suppressed while still small. That was considered “moderate” initial attack activity.

Firefighting resources assigned in the South:

  • 78 aircraft
  • 83 hand crews
  • 1,011 pieces of equipment
  • 4,476 personnel
map wildfires south
Map showing the location of some of the large fires in the southern states. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:22 am November 21, 2016.

On Sunday evening four fires reported 24-hour growth of more than 100 acres:

Rock Mountain Fire

Map Rock Mountain Fire
Map of the perimeter of the Rock Mountain Fire at 6 p.m. ET November 20, 2016.

The Rock Mountain Fire that started about 10 miles northwest of Clayton Georgia has spread north into North Carolina. At the last report it had burned 11,287 acres, an increase of 862 acres. On Sunday it was very active, moving through the hardwood leaf litter in all directions at a rate of about one mile each day. Evacuations are still in place for Dream Catcher Cove north of Tate City, Georgia.

On Saturday strong winds pushed the blaze across the Appalachian Trail on the north end of the fire. Winds blowing leaves still falling from trees are creating problems for firefighters, covering existing firelines and causing some areas to re-burn.

East Miller Cove

The East Miller Cove Fire is just east of Walland, Tennessee, 16 miles south of Knoxville. On Sunday evening the incident management team reported it had burned 1,492 acres, an increase of 1,292 acres, threatening 100 structures north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Big Branch

The Big Branch Fire is in southeast Kentucky three miles south of Roxana and five miles northeast of Cumberland. It has burned 625 acres, an increase of 175 acres.

Oakwood 1 Fire

This fire is in Arkansas, listed at 468 acres, an increase of 278. No other information is available.

Chestnut Knob Fire
A firefighter on the Chestnut Knob Fire. InciWeb.

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For the latest articles at Wildfire Today about how smoke from the wildfires is affecting various locations in the South, check out the articles tagged “smoke”.

Arkansas leads U.S. in total value of federal excess property acquired for rural fire departments

From the Arkansas Forestry Commission:

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“The Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC) Rural Fire Protection (RFP) Program provides specialized equipment, training, and loans to qualifying rural fire departments across Arkansas. Reports from a recent review by the U.S. Forest Service reveal Arkansas as the leader, surpassing all other states in the U.S., for the total value of federal excess property acquired by the program as of 2014.

“The Rural Fire Protection Program was designed to support, train, and equip our strongest partners in wildland fire suppression and community safety – firefighters. We are proud to see equipment going to rural areas that adds water supply, as well as general tools and supplies, decreases response time, and enhances the overall safety of Arkansas communities. We are especially proud to know that Arkansas was a leader in 2014 for acquiring equipment that makes Arkansans safer,” said John Blackburn, RFP Coordinator.

Firefighting equipment acquired by the AFC RFP program includes an array of items such as tanker trucks, pumper trucks, brush trucks, fire boats, generators, and smaller gear and tools like personal protective equipment, helmets, gloves, lights, general shop tools, tires, nozzles, and more. Most of this equipment would be unattainable by rural fire departments because of cost constraints, if this program did not exist.

In March and April of this year, the RFP Program provided firefighting vehicles and/or generators to 29 fire departments, across 22 counties; five interest-free loans, totaling $80,551; and, general firefighting equipment valued at over $67,000 from the RFP Program Warehouse at Greenbrier.

Last year (2014), 107 firefighting vehicles were distributed across the state, all valued at $9,900,661.63; 16 interest-free loans were financed for fire crews to transform Department of Defense equipment into firefighting equipment, totaling $200,219.66; and Wildland Fire Suppression Kits were provided to 34 communities, totaling $102,000 in added wildland fire equipment to statewide crews.

Where does it all come from? Resources made available through the RFP Program is Department of Defense excess property vehicles and equipment that is provided to the U.S. Forest Service through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two federal agencies. The U.S. Forest Service then authorizes the AFC to oversee the distribution of this equipment through the RFP Program.  RFP personnel screen for and coordinate the pick-up of federal excess property from across the country, within those agency parameters. Fire departments may apply for equipment at anytime through RFP Headquarters in Greenbrier; provided that they are in compliance with Federal Regulations. Equipment is then distributed as evenly and quickly as possible, to meet fire department requests on file.

Beyond equipment and loan opportunities, the RFP Program administers the 8-hour Wildland Firefighter Class, and helps to plan, organize, and host the upcoming annual Arkansas Fire Boat School (May 29-30at DeGray Lake) – training for statewide fire boat crews, and hosts an annual fall fire show and cookout for Arkansas firefighters.”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.

Arkansas firefighter dies in the line of duty

On Wednesday Assistant Chief J.B. Hutton, Jr., who had been fighting fire in Dermot, Arkansas since the mid-sixties, collapsed at a vegetation fire after bending down to pick up a hose. His coworkers performed CPR but he passed away later at a hospital.

In his later years with the department he primarily operated the engines and shared his experiences with other firefighters.

Our sincere condolences go out to Chief Hutton’s family and coworkers.

Unusual fire activity at Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National ParkWildland fire personnel at Hot Springs National Park southwest of Little Rock, Arkansas have had a couple of unusual fire responses over the last week. On Thursday evening a fire broke out in the historical Majestic Hotel in downtown Hot Springs. The hotel was built in 1882 but has been closed since 2006. Fox16 news reports that municipal fire departments were using 500,000 gallons of water an hour on the massive blaze. National Park Service wildland fire engines do not, of course, fight structure fires, but one of their engines has been assigned to the fire since Thursday night, alternating with a U.S. Forest Service wildland engine.

Teresa Horn, spokesperson for the Park, told Wildfire Today Friday afternoon that the engine crews’ assignment on the fire, which is now in the mopup stage, was to patrol the nearby neighborhood looking for burning embers and spot fires — not unlike what the firefighters might do on a wildland fire, except this time it was in a city.

Back in its glory days, the eight-story 400-room hotel was frequented by Babe Ruth. The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Red Sox also stayed at the hotel during their spring training decades ago.

The other unusual fire response was for an actual wildland fire on February 21, but with a twist. From the National Park Service’s Morning Report:

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“Ranger Andy Griggs came upon an unoccupied suspicious vehicle on Blacksnake Road inside the park while on patrol on Friday, February 21st. A routine check on the vehicle’s tag indicated that the registered owner had extensive felony arrests on his record and that he was operating it with a suspended driver’s license.

This area of the park has been a popular area for “scrappers” looking for old bottles and other historic artifacts. Several archaeological sites are in this same area.

Chief Ranger John Hughes, Operations Supervisor Jeff Johnson, Ranger Clint Forte and his canine partner, “Saki,” responded. While waiting for additional park units to arrive, a single gunshot was heard from a distance.

Rangers searched the area for approximately an hour, eventually coming upon the owner of the vehicle and another man, who admitted that they had been looking in the area for items that could be taken to a scrap yard.

While the on-scene interviews were being conducted, a third man was found a short distance away from the truck. As he was being interviewed, a plume of smoke was seen coming from the mountainside in an area where he’d come from. The man admitted to starting the wildfire to draw attention to himself, as he felt that he was lost in the woods and hoped that his two companions would see the smoke and come to his aid.

NPS fire crews, Forest Service firefighters and Hot Springs Fire Department personnel responded to fight the fire. At the time, the area was under a burn ban, as the park had not received any measurable rain for quite some time and winds were gusting to approximately 20 mph with the relative humidity at 16%. By the time the fire was completely extinguished, an acre-and-a-half of park land had burned.

The man who started the fire will be charged in federal court once the case has been turned over to the US attorney. The other two men were both taken into custody, as they were both wanted on outstanding warrants from another jurisdiction.

Forte is the case agent for the arson; Jeff Johnson served as the incident commander for the fire.”