Arson suspected as firefighters battle 1,200-acre blaze near Nickajack Lake

Arson suspected as firefighters battle 1,200-acre blaze near Nickajack Lake

March 8th, 2012 by Tim Omarzu in News

Westbound traffic passes a forest fire along state Highway 156 and Macedonia Road in Marion County, Tenn. The fire, far right, is in Dade County, Ga. The Georgia Forestry Commission is working the Dade County portion of the fire, while Tennessee Forestry is managing the Marion County fire.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Firefighters from Tennessee and Georgia worked Wednesday to get ahead of a two-day wildfire burning about 1,200 acres where Marion and Dade counties meet near Nickajack Lake, foresters said.

"It apparently was an arson fire," said Jim Dale, assistant district forester for the Tennessee Division of Forestry, and Tennessee firefighters saved four structures and a church.

There are about 10 to 15 homes "in the line of fire right now," Troy Floyd, assistant district manager for the Georgia Forestry Commission's Coosa District, said early Wednesday afternoon.

The fire began around noon Tuesday on Macedonia Road, he said. About 30 forestry firefighters, with mutual aid help from the Dade County Fire Department, worked to contain the blaze and secure areas around threatened homes.

The fire was "going to be probably 2,000 acres by the time we get it all done," said Heath Morton, Dade County chief ranger for the Georgia Forestry Commission.

A spotter plane and six bulldozers from the Georgia Forestry Commission and two bulldozers from Tennessee were helping Wednesday afternoon, Morton said.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the fire was 90 percent contained in Georgia, Dale said. In Tennessee, firefighters had bulldozed a line around the blaze and were waiting for the wildfire to reach it. Ordinarily, fire crews would burn out the area between the fire and fire line, but it was too windy for that, Dale said.

On the Georgia side, firefighters did try to burn in front of the wildfire.

"What we're doing is setting back fires, trying to run the fire together," said Marcus Dowdy, a Georgia Forestry Commission volunteer firefighter who worked alongside a crew of Georgia inmates.

A helicopter from the Georgia Forestry Commission's Cobb County office dropped water on the wildfire Tuesday to protect homes at the top of a ridge, said Morton.

"Yesterday, it was a wind-driven fire, fast-moving, threatening homes at the top of the ridge," Morton said Wednesday.

Macedonia Road resident Joe Dugger said the wildfire came within 10 feet of a cabin near his home in Cole City Hollow.

Region Editor Alex Chambliss and photographer Tim Barber contributed to this story.