Authorities in Bradley County are seeking help from the public after a string of brush fires was apparently set over the weekend along a 6-mile stretch of Dalton Pike south of Cleveland.
After a small brush fire was reported around 4 p.m. Sunday on Dalton Pike near Waterville Community School, another 10 brush fires were reported scattered to the south along Dalton Pike almost to the intersection with state Route 317, authorities said.
Bradley County Fire and Rescue mobilized its response to multiple locations, the largest of the fires covering approximately 1 acre in the 6600 block of Dalton Pike, according to a news release from the department. The fire necessitated a temporary closure of Dalton Pike as firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze.
Traffic was blocked in both directions on Dalton Pike, but motorists, including some big rigs, were able to navigate around the blaze and firefighters by using Flint Springs and Red Hill Valley roads. The locations of the fires also were not far from the Bradley County Fire-Rescue Training Center on New Street, just off Dalton Pike.
"In response to these incidents, arson investigators were dispatched to various fire scenes to gather evidence and determine the cause of the fires," agency spokesperson Adam Lewis said in the release. "The safety of the community is our top priority, and we are committed to a thorough investigation."
Bradley County brush fires
Recent weather conditions haven't helped.
A record-dry September's lack of rain extended into October for the entire state, according to the Tennessee Climate Office at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City,
"Over the course of the month, the state went from being nearly drought-free to almost 80% of the state being shown in abnormally dry or moderate drought on the U.S. Drought Monitor by the first week of October," William Tollefson, assistant state climatologist, said in an email.
Drought conditions have deepened as October heads toward November, according to the climate office. Most Southeast Tennessee counties are shown in severe drought, and the rest remain in moderate drought.
"If dry conditions persist or worsen, the Chattanooga area and the surrounding counties may fall into extreme drought by next week," the office's statewide summary released Oct. 17 said.
The National Weather Service's extended forecast calls for a clear sky and dry conditions through next weekend, with daytime highs ranging from the mid-70s to low-80s and cool nights.
Meanwhile, Bradley County investigators need help from the public.
"If anyone possesses information related to these fires or witnessed any suspicious activity in the affected areas, we kindly request you to come forward," Lewis said. "Your cooperation can greatly aid our ongoing investigation."
Anyone with information or tips can contact Bradley County investigators at 423-728-7295, Lewis said. Alternatively, information can be provided anonymously through the Tennessee Arson hotline at 800-762-3017.