NASHVILLE - Tennessee wildfires have already cost the state an estimated $5.5 million to fight, not to mention property damage, and that has Gov. Bill Haslam vowing to go after arsonists believed responsible for setting at least half of the blazes across drought-parched portions of the state.
Wildfires ravage Southeast
- Two juveniles arrested, charged in deadly Gatlinburg wildfires
- Tennessee takes four area counties off burn ban list to aid tornado cleanup
- Rain helps with area wildfires, but Tennessee burn ban remains [videos, photos]
- Gatlinburg wildfires death toll climbs to 14; officials estimate 1,684 structures damaged or destroyed
- Nonprofits and state agencies step up relief efforts amid tornado, wildfire damage
- Man charged for allegedly intentionally setting a Sequatchie County wildfire
- Rain brings relief for wildfires
- Southern storms should ease drought, but fire threat remains
- At long last, substantial rain is expected throughout Chattanooga area
- Gov. Bill Haslam applauds wildfire fighters' efforts
- Firefighters make progress in Southeast wildfires, but threat remains
- Crews fighting large fire in northeast Alabama
- Gov. Haslam vows to pursue wildfire arsonists 'with everything we have'
- Hamilton County wildfires to cost more than $600,000
- Forestry crews prepared to miss Thanksgiving with families as they battle wildfires
- Wildfires rage on; new one pops up in North Georgia
- Gasp! Wildfires cause hacking and wheezing across the South
- Air quality improves, rain possible this weekend
- Relentless smoke spreads fear at edge of southern wildfires
- Catoosa County issues burn ban
- Many outdoor activities banned as fires burn across south
- Two men charged with arson as crews make progress quelling 3 area blazes
- Chattanooga is on target to break record for driest year in city's history
- Alabama man confesses to starting Sequatchie County fire
- Area wildfires containment increases, Flipper Bend fire 95 percent contained
- Catholic Mass offered for wildfire relief
- Fire crews hope to reach 100 percent containment on 3 area wildfires
- Wildfire smoke engulfs Chattanooga, endangering health of residents
- No rain in forecast as Chattanooga area wildfires continue to burn
- Tennessee Gov. Haslam issues 51-county burning ban
- Firefighters use hand tools to fight Chattanooga-area wildfires with no rain in sight
- Hundreds hospitalized with breathing problems amid Chattanooga-area wildfire outbreak
- Sohn: Might wildfire smoke be harbinger of days to come?
- New fires sprout in Chattanooga area as firefighters work to contain thousands of acres burning across region
- Arson suspected in most Chattanooga area wildfires
- UPDATE: Man arrested after admitting he set three wildfires that consumed 300 acres
- The latest update on the unprecedented fire season in the tri-state area
- Wildfires burning total of 9,680 acres across eastern half of Tennessee; FEMA steps in to offer aid [videos, photo galleries]
- Southern fires rage with 41.6 million now living in drought
- Wildfires continue across region with no rain imminent; some residents evacuated
- Chattanooga area wildfire smoke triggers 'Code Red' air quality alert [videos]
"We obviously are very concerned about fires in Tennessee, particularly the fact that it looks like the majority of them were set by arsonists," Haslam told reporters. "I can assure you we're going to pursue those folks with everything they can because the impact on our communities is huge."
Haslam's comments came after he questioned state Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton and Division of Forestry officials, up for their annual budget review, about the fires in Hamilton County and other parts of East Tennessee where fires in forested and other areas have been worst.
Tennessee firefighters, aided by teams from Florida, Texas and other states that belong in a 10-state compact, have done a "terrific job," the governor said.
"Obviously there are costs associated," Haslam said. "Some of that will hit our own budget. It could be as much as $5 million. We'll have to see how all that plays out."
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., toured wildfire scenes in Hamilton County Monday.
Templeton and forestry officials told the governor that preliminary estimates indicate Tennessee stands to recoup at least $900,000 in federal emergency funds for money it spent on a three-fire "complex" near Soddy-Daisy in Hamilton County, Smith County in nearby Sequatchie County and East Miller Cover in Blount County. Because they have been federally designated, the federal government would pay 75 percent of costs.
Non-federally designated areas, however, are on Tennessee taxpayers' dime with the state bringing in firefighting teams from other states. A Florida team made a huge difference in fighting the North Hamilton County fires, Templeton and other officials told the governor.
Haslam also noted the "first concern is for people's welfare and protecting their houses. The second is the long-term economic damage to the state. Our farmers are going through a tough period already, and the drought is obviously making all of that worse."
As for what more punishments are in store for suspected arsonists, Haslam said, "I've actually asked that question. We're trying to see what we can do there that we can do within the powers given us. But I would be in favor of doing it. I'll obviously have to see what we can do."
He said he may push tougher laws for future arsonists.
In the meantime, Templeton and other department officials warned he sees both immediate and long-term negative impacts to Tennessee farmers as a result of the drought. Beef and dairy farmers have been especially hard hit as have their livestock, forcing many to sell off their animals sooner than they would have liked.
Templeton said that because the average Tennessee farmer is in his or her late 50s, the economic impacts may prompt them to just go ahead and call it quits. That matters both for their families as well as state exports of meat and dairy products, he said.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.