KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The threat of fire is hitting East Tennessee sooner than usual this summer. With a triple-digit forecast and dry, crunchy grass serving as fire fuel, forestry officials are on high alert.
In less than two weeks, fires have already ignited in Knox, Blount, Campbell, Monroe, Scott, and Union counties. So far there have been small grass fires that were easily contained.
However, fire officials say things could get worse if temperatures keep soaring and the chance of rain doesn't improve.
As state forestry technician Bruce Miller pointed out a patch of brown weeds and grass, Wednesday, he said, "You can see here, this is just brown. They're dead. This stuff would start with just the least amount of a spark."
"In 30 years of doing this, this is one of those situations that rarely comes along," Miller said. "We're actually about four weeks ahead of where we should be in terms of temperatures in fire conditions. This feels and looks more like a typical August, and it's still June."
Miller says the tiniest spark can quickly become a raging wildfire from something as simple as leaving a car running, or even mowing your grass.
"You can drop a little spark out of your mower, and leave, come back and your yard's on fire," he said.
"A lot of people don't realize that a catalytic converter gets very hot on the bottom of a vehicle, so if it's in the grass and the grass makes contact with the catalytic converter, and they drive away, then the grass is already ignited, and it can be fanned by the small winds that we're having here, the five to six mile an hour winds, which can then turn it into a wildfire," Miller explained.
Forestry officials say two recent grass fires along Interstate 75 and Interstate 40 in Knox County were ignited by cigarettes thrown from vehicles.
"They're relatively easy to extinguish initially, but because the soil is so dry the material underneath those can retain the heat, and those can actually smolder and burn for days and re-surface if we don't stay on top of it and keep putting water on them," Miller said.
Firefighters say they expect to get more grass fires in the coming days, and they're hoping for some weather relief soon.
"If we don't get a climatic change, get some more moisture in here, we could see this progress to a critical situation," Miller said.
Forestry officials say if you're planning to burn debris, the morning hours are the best time.
They also recommend keeping a water hose and rake nearby. And it's best to remove tall weeds and other debris for at least 30 feet around your home.
Remember to never leave a fire until you're certain it's extinguished.