Many outdoor activities banned as fires burn across south

Assistant Chief Brent Masey, of the Highway 58 Fire Department in Harrison, Tenn., looks up as a helicopter carrying fire retardant flies over as Masey keeps watch on a wildfire Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. Federal authorities say warmer-than-average temperatures and no rainfall are deepening a drought that's sparking forest fires across the Southeastern U.S. (Mark Humphrey)

Wildfires ravage Southeast

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Starting campfires, lighting fireworks and smoking cigarettes are among the outdoor activities being banned across the South as fires burn in forests stressed by drought.

Even parking a car off-road is prohibited for fear that a hot tailpipe could ignite dry leaves below.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Adam Rondeau has said the agency is tracking wildfires that have burned a total of 80,000 acres across the South. That includes a north Georgia fire that's burned an area the size of Manhattan.

The Tennessee Valley Authority issued a burn ban Tuesday on its public lands across Tennessee and in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. The authority said its ban applies to anything that might produce an open flame.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, meanwhile, banned outdoor burning outright in more than half of the state's counties through December 15.

Also, two men were arrested Monday on charges related to setting separate fires along roadsides in Tennessee. Of the 1,238 wildfires in the state so far this year, officials suspect arson in almost half of them.

In Alabama, Fire Marshal Scott Pilgreen said state officers are investigating two of nearly 1,100 statewide wildfires as possible arson. No arrests have been made, but officers have issued misdemeanor citations for allegedly violating the statewide no-burn order.

Smoke from the fires has caused unhealthy breathing conditions in many places.

In South Carolina, the Department of Health and Environmental Control issued a code red alert for 25 counties along and west of Interstate 77 through to Orangeburg County. DHEC said everyone should limit their time outdoors if possible, especially people with respiratory issues.

Smoke has also cast a haze over the Atlanta skyline in recent days.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has banned the ignition of all fireworks in much of the state due to the wildfire risk. Fire officials said the largest active wildfire in the South has now burned more than 19,000 acres in the north Georgia mountains - an area larger than New York's Manhattan borough.

The fires in North Carolina now cover in excess of 40,000 acres. Federal and state forestry officials said Tuesday that cloudy conditions allowed firefighters to make progress on containment.