Four days after firefighters met in Ringgold, Ga., to talk about the threat of fire breaking out in swaths of felled trees left over from 2011 tornadoes, a burn pile sparked a wildfire on tornado-slammed Cherokee Valley Road on Tuesday afternoon.
The fire started about 1:40 p.m. and by 4 p.m., it had grown to cover roughly 20 acres. The wildfire, driven by a stiff northwest wind, jumped two bulldozed fire lines as it burned through the dry timber.
"This is what we didn't want to happen," Catoosa County Deputy Fire Chief Jim White said as he monitored the blaze from a command post on Cherokee Valley Road.
The wildfire was started by a burn pile for which a residential permit had been issued, White said. But a residential burn permit is for small, hand-piled burn piles, and this pile was being stacked high by machinery.
"It's a long story. They had a permit, but it wasn't for what they were burning," White said.
One Georgia Forestry Commission bulldozer from Whitfield County was battling the blaze, and two more were en route from either Walker or Dade counties, Catoosa Battalion Chief Steve Quinn said.
By bulldozing firebreaks, firefighters wanted to prevent the blaze from moving up and over the ridge and to Ooltewah-Ringgold Road.
Meanwhile, two other state bulldozers were tied up at a controlled burn on Houston Valley Road.
At 4 p.m., a Georgia Forestry Commission spotter plane monitored the fire's size and movement by circling overhead on Cherokee Valley Road.
Tri-Community firefighters from Collegedale arrived about the same time and were assigned to protect a house on the road.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.