Dozens of wildfires, including 33 “large” fires, continue to rage across the Southeast, spewing clouds of smoke in their wake.
These southeastern wildfires have resulted in at least one death in Kentucky and have sent hundreds of Tennessee residents to the hospital with respiratory issues.
Residents all across the southeastern United States are on edge, particularly in Appalachian areas. More than 30 large wildfires have burned a total of 128,000 acres so far, according to the Associated Press. Of these, 12 fires have been reported in Kentucky, eight in North Carolina, and six in Tennessee.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), “Significant fire potential remains very high to extreme, due to low humidities and dry fuel conditions.” Fueled by prolonged drought conditions in the Southeast, the fires have prompted officials to declare states of emergency in Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky. In addition, mandatory evacuations have been ordered for five North Carolina counties.
“All of the Southeast is very dry … fire doesn’t know any boundaries,” said Brian Haines, spokesman for the North Carolina Forest Service. “Drought conditions are contributing to drier and larger forest fuels being available. These range from the undergrowth to sticks, leaves and logs. Even the smallest of sparks can ignite these very dry fuels.”
More than 5,000 firefighters and support staff from around the nation have poured into the Southeast to help fight the fires. According to Dave Martin of the US Forest Service’s Southern Region, “Dry weather, high winds and the continuing drought is driving the large growth of fires. And because the fires are spread over several states, agencies’ resources are being depleted.”
Firefighter Chad Cullum of Billings, Montana, noted that these southeastern wildfires are burning differently than wildfires in the western part of the U.S. The large, wind-driven fires that scorch pine forests in the West often burn in the tree tops and mellow out at night, Cullum said. But the fires in the Appalachians are clinging to the ground and actively burning 24 hours a day, spewing out a constant cloud of smoke.
In Chattanooga, Tennessee, about 250 residents have been hospitalized since November 1 with shortness of breath and other respiratory issues, according to the state’s Emergency Management Agency. (See related article, “Where There’s Wildfire, There’s Smoke.”)
The Rough Ridge Fire in northwest Georgia was caused by lightning in mid-October, which is the last time the area received rain. The Georgia fire has engulfed more than 25,000 acres, making it the largest fire in that state. It was 50% contained as of November 17, according to the US Forest Service. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has banned fireworks in the drought-affected counties, citing the ongoing “uncontrolled fires.” (See related article, “Fireworks and Drought: A Deadly Combo.”)
According to the Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet, more than 150 wildfires (or 76%) of Kentucky wildfires have been caused by arson. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, 42 of the 58 active wildfires are suspected to have been intentionally set, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
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