By Michael R. Moser
Senior staff writer
Fires fought by state forestry personnel from five counties for over three days last week are believed to be the work of an arsonist or arsonists, and a reward is being offered in connection with the incident.
"Anywhere we have ATV (all-terrain vehicle) traffic in remote areas, fires are usually set on purpose," Cumberland District Assistant Forester James Dale said Friday. "We have had trouble for years with arson activities in the area of ATV traffic. They can go where it is nearly impossible for humans to go."
Dale said between 150 and 200 acres burned along the ridge visible from I-40 in the area of Crab Orchard and Millstone mountains. The terrain is remote and extremely rugged, causing problems for firefighters trying to access the scene with their equipment.
Forestry units from the Cumberland District from Cumberland, Bledsoe, Fentress and Putnam counties were joined by a unit from the East Tennessee District in accessing the fire scene and stopping the fire's advance.
"The humidity at night helped us a lot, with a heavy dew that slowed the fire," Dale said. "That and the wind dying down helped us get this fire under control and by yesterday (Thursday) evening we felt we had it pretty much contained. There were a few spots inside our lines that were still burning.
The fire started near the top of the mountain but while forestry workers were fighting that blaze, a second fire was set below the firefighters.
Burning without a permit is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $50. Wildfires caused by arson are a class C felony punishable by three to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 fines.
Anyone with information about suspected arson activity should call the state Fire Marshal’s Arson Hotline toll-free at 1-800-762-3017, or the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department. Rewards up to $1,500 are available for tips leading to a conviction. Callers can remain anonymous.