Firefighters use hand tools to fight Chattanooga-area wildfires with no rain in sight

Volunteer firefighter's Sheri Torbett, with the Sequoyah Volunteer Fire Department, uses a leaf blower Thursday to turn back approaching flames near the Mobray Volunteer Fire Hall in Soddy-Daisy.

Wildfires ravage Southeast

With help from crews from as far away as California and Oregon, firefighters are making progress in containing three wildfires on Signal Mountain.

The Mowbray Mountain fire, which has burned some 750 acres, is over 50 percent contained and that number should climb by late Monday, according to Julie Allen, PIO with the Florida Forestry Service, which has taken over the leadership in fighting several fires in the area. "We're really excited about that one," Allen said.

photo Wildfires abound in the region as seen in this NASA image.

A nearby wildfire at Flipper Bend is 90 percent contained, although 1,000 acres have burned, and nearby residents have been allowed back into their homes, she said. Volunteer firefighters have been using a portable pump to fill their tender trucks, which carry water, from a nearby lake to fight that fire. Firefighters then use hoses to extinguish hot spots that remain after most of the flames have been knocked down.

"The one we are working hard on right now, at Poe Road, started late Thursday or Friday morning," Allen said, between the Mowbray Mountain and Flipper Bend fires. The fire has burned about 550 acres in very difficult terrain and is about 40 percent contained. "Poe Road is so remote that we can't get to it," she said. "The terrain is very difficult, but we have the Nevada crew on that fire because they are trained for that type of terrain."

The smoky conditions have limited the use of helicopters to drop water, Allen said. So instead crews from around the Southeast, plus California, Texas, Oregon and Nevada are using hand tools and bulldozers to create fire breaks that will prevent the flames from spreading, Allen said.

A burn ban is in effect for Hamilton County and eight other counties that prohibits residents from starting fires, including campfires, charcoal or wood-fired grills (but not propane), leaves, brush or garbage fires. Other counties where the ban is in effect include Claiborne, Cumberland, Jefferson, Loudon, Marion, Monroe, Robertson, and Sevier counties.

Violating the ban can carry a fine of $2,500 and/or up to 11 months and 29 days in jail.