published Friday, February 18th, 2011

Crews contain arson wildfire on Dade County mountain

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    Staff photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press Heath Morton, chief ranger of the Dade County unit of the Georgia Forestry Commission, lights a backfire Thursday as he and others battle fires burning for a fourth day on the mountain near Dugan Loop Road in northern Dade County, Ga.

More than 900 acres on Tatum Mountain in Dade County, Ga., are still smoldering after firefighters contained a wildfire that ravaged the mountain since Sunday.

Though the fire is contained and firefighters have left the scene, smoke can be expected a little while longer until all flammable material in the area burns off, firefighters said.

"It's one of the worst fires we've seen in the county in eight years," said Chief Ranger Heath Morton with the Georgia Forestry Commission, which battled the blaze.

No injuries were reported.

Officials believe the fire was set by an arsonist because of the location and condition in which it first flared up. Morton said investigators are looking at a suspect.

The land is all privately owned, and Morton said it is not unusual in the county for disputes over hunting land to lead to arson. This could be such a case, he said.

No structures burned but Morton said about 10 houses were endangered on Dugan Loop. They were secured, he said.

The fire was especially difficult to fight because of limited accessibility. The mountain, also known as Dugan Mountain and Veterans Mountain, is steep and rocky and completely covered in brush.

Firefighters worked 16-hour shifts beginning Monday, Morton said.

"It's the worst kind of place to fight a fire," said Troy Floyd, assistant district manager with the Georgia Forestry Commission.

Dry conditions made the fight more challenging.

"The wind and cold have dried the top layer of the soil, which means it burns real easily," said Kelly Towe, central response worker for the Georgia Forestry Commission.

Towe also said southern winds made the blaze even more volatile.

There is a 20 percent chance of rain Sunday through Tuesday, according to Mike Leary, hydrometeorologist at the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Ga.

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