published Monday, March 12th, 2012

Dade, Marion County border fire called 'suspicious'

Smoke is visible last week across Nickajack Lake.
Smoke is visible last week across Nickajack Lake.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

A wildfire last week that burned 671 acres in Tennessee and Georgia near Nickajack Lake had a "suspicious" cause -- but that's not unusual for Dade County, Ga., an official said.

"In Dade County, we have several large fires a year of suspicious origin," said Heath Morton, Dade County chief ranger for the Georgia Forestry Commission.

Morton said last week's Rock Crop Fire, which started in Dade County and spread to Marion County, Tenn., still is under investigation.

"Some of it's hunting," Morton said. Turkey season is coming, and hunters sometimes set fires to clear away brush, he said.

"Some of it's just pure meanness," Morton added.

Firefighters from Georgia and Tennessee started battling the Rock Crop Fire on March 5 and didn't finish until Thursday afternoon.

No houses were damaged, but about 10 in each state were threatened, Morton said. A helicopter from the Georgia Forestry Commission's Cobb County office dropped water to help protect homes.

The fire burned private land, including the financially troubled Sequatchie Pointe development.

Firefighters initially pegged the blaze at about 1,200 acres, but a Tennessee forester who walked the entire site with a GPS device calculated that a total of 671 acres burned, 307 of which were on the Tennessee side, said Jim Dale, assistant district forester for the Tennessee Division of Forestry.

The steep, rocky soil meant that bulldozers couldn't cut fire lines in some places. When that's the case, hand crews clear lines by removing forest litter with leaf blowers and hand rakes.

"It's pretty impressive," Dale said. "A good line [cleared] down to bare mineral soil is a thing of beauty in the firefighting world."

"A good rain once a week would really help things until we get greened up," Dale said.

Contact Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties 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. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township┬╣s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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