With a helicopter circling overhead to drop water, firefighters battled the summer heat and rugged terrain to try to contain a stubborn wildfire on the steep west side of Lookout Mountain Thursday.
The fire, which began Tuesday, was moving down the side of the mountain from the base of a bluff, making it difficult for firefighters to get to the flames.
Although the fire is less than a mile from nine homes in the Maggie Bluff subdivision and not far from TVA power lines, there is no danger at present, according to John McCutcheon, acting chief ranger for the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park.
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Firefighters are trying to lay several miles of hoses along Jackson Gap Trail and Bluff Trail, so they can set small fires to burn off underbrush and contain the flames in the space between the two trails.
State firefighters, largely from the Georgia Forestry Commission, were unable to get to the site of the fire Tuesday and Wednesday, but used two state helicopters to dump water on the flames in an unsuccessful effort to douse them, McCutcheon said.
Larger helicopters should be on scene Thursday, but large fixed wing airplanes, which can carry more water than the helicopters, are all in use fighting fires in the Western states. "There's not a large aircraft available this side of the Mississippi," said Heath Morton, chief ranger for the Georgia Forestry Commission in Dade County.
Lookout Mountain residents who live close to the flames said they never expected a fire to get so close.
"It's heaven up here — and then this happens," said Julie Lutz, who lives with several family members in a home on one of several roads that dead end along the bluff. Lutz said she and her family became anxious on Wednesday. "The smoke started coming more in this direction," she said.
But by Thursday, the flames had headed south, down the mountainside.
The fire started Tuesday, apparently after embers from an illegal campfire blew off a rocky bluff into a wooded area below, according to McCutcheon.
The fire is located on park land about halfway down the side of the mountain, southwest of Covenant College.
The flames covered about 3-4 acres on Tuesday, but the fire had spread to an estimated 20 acres by Thursday morning, McCutcheon said.
He said the park service is investigating the cause of the fire and that whoever built the campfire could face federal charges.
McCutcheon said about 50 firefighters would be available Thursday and he hoped that number could grow to 75 by the weekend if the fire is not contained by then.
Fire officials are in place near the Maggie Bluff subdivision to coordinate firefighters' efforts if the subdivision is threatened, McCutcheon said, but no homeowners have been evacuated.