Firefighters battle Polk County blaze

Firefighters battle Polk County blaze

August 17th, 2011 by Ben Benton in News

Just north of Parksville Lake and the Lake Ocoee Inn and Marina, a helicopter flies over a forest fire on Chilhowee Mountain late Monday. Area residents said the fire had been burning nearly a week. Officials said the blaze was 90 percent contained on Tuesday.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Forest fire on Chilhowee Mountain

Forest fire on Chilhowee Mountain

Firefighters battling a forest fire on Chilhowee Mountain in Polk County that raged across more than 100 acres over the past week had the blaze largely contained late Tuesday, U.S. Forest Service officials said.

"We think it started around Monday or Tuesday [of last week]," U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Deanna Hayes said. Chilhowee Mountain is just east of Benton, Tenn.

Officials believe a lightning strike started the fire that has burned at least 123 acres since the beginning of last week, Hayes said. She said the location is remote and hard to reach.

"It's in very rocky and steep terrain," she said.

Officials dubbed the blaze burning about a half-mile north of Parksville Lake in Ocoee, Tenn., the "Bluff Fire."

Fire crews got some help from the Jacob's Creek Job Corps from Bristol, Tenn., and from the Cherokee Hot Shots from Unicoi, Tenn., she said.

"The Hot Shots are the elite firefighting crew of the U.S. Forest Service," she said.

Crews also had help from a Durango, Colo.-based helicopter that hauled water from Parksville Lake to dump on the fire, she said.

Derek Eisentrout, hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn., said a lack of rain in recent weeks created dry conditions in the region and wind gusts in excess of 20 mph probably didn't help firefighters much.

And there's little hope for relief anytime soon, Eisentrout said.

A 20 to 30 percent chance of precipitation continues through the weekend with the best chances of rain coming on Thursday and Friday, he said.

"We have high pressure building in the area and that lends itself to drier conditions and that suppresses any thunderstorm activity that tries to build up during the day," Eisentrout said.

Polk County 911 dispatcher Gary Verner said he believed the fire was first reported last Wednesday.

There have been no reports of private property damage, Verner said.

"It's all national forest, all woods," he said.

Hayes said firefighters worked within the perimeter of the fire on Monday to clip its momentum.

"We did some back-burning on the interior of the fire," she said. That caused the blaze to smoke more, but removed some of the forest fire's fuel, she said.

Officials said 93 firefighters, including two local men, have battled the Bluff Fire's flames.

On Tuesday, Hayes said crews expected to contain the blaze by 7 p.m.

"It's about 90 percent contained now," she said around noon on Tuesday. "Everything is kind of winding down with it."