Planned burns filling Knox County sky with smoke

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Prescribed burns filled the sky around Knox County with smoke Tuesday.

According to Rural Metro Fire Department spokesman Jeff Bagwell, there was a prescribed burn in Oak Ridge.

Bagwell also said there had been a burn near Watt Road, not in Knox County.

Within the past few days though, multiple agencies were conducting controlled burns.

TWRA officials said a burn previously took place at the Seven Islands State Birding Park.

Tennessee Division of Forestry officials in East Tennessee said they were working on controlled burns in Scott, Union, Morgan, and Claiborne counties.

The U.S. Forest Service was working a controlled burn on 500 acres of the Cherokee National Forest in Monroe County Monday and Tuesday.

Also, National Park Service fire crews planned prescribed burn operations at Big South Fork River and Recreation Area for Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Oak Ridge prescribed burn is taking place along the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Reservation boundary near Wisconsin Avenue and the North Boundary Greenway. The burning activity will also take place on the west side of Wisconsin Avenue to the new Boulder Trail.

North Boundary Greenway and trails located on DOE land west of Wisconsin Avenue are closed and will stay closed for two days after the end of the controlled burn. Signage is posted.

The Oak Ridge burn is part of the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency’s and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s effort to provide wildlife habitat, encourage the growth of native plants, and reduce the risk of wildfires. They are conducted and overseen by the Tennessee Department of Forestry personnel who maintain fire control equipment, certified burn managers, and trained personnel at the burn area.

Nathan Waters, a spokesperson for the Tennessee Division of Forestry, said controlled burns are good for the environment for several reasons.

One is to eliminate dead brush, which helps prevent wildfires from spreading in the future.

Another reason was to help wildlife survive in their natural habitat, such as quails.

“You’ve got to have these habitats so that these animals can come in and live. They cannot sustain themselves with the exotic vegetation. They can’t live in Kudzu,” Waters said.

Waters said the reason for the smoke in Knox County, and surrounding counties Tuesday morning, was largely due to prescribed burns taking place in previous days.

Waters said what most likely happened overnight was cooler air came in, and the smoke stuck in the lower levels of the atmosphere in the Valley.

“Basically, it just holds that warm air down and that smoke is the warm air, so if you burn late enough and there’s enough smoke put up for a fire, then that smoke will still be there and what will happen is it will lay down like that,” Waters said.

Bagwell said that’s ultimately why Knox County was under a burn ban Tuesday–because there was already too much smoke in the area.

“If you allowed everybody in Knox County to continue to burn today, with that already in the air, you’re only making it worse, you’re compounding the problem, rather than allowing it to clear up from the prescribed burns that were going on,” Bagwell said.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Storm Team says those with respiratory issues should limit their outdoor activity.

“Very light winds and high-pressure overhead are trapping the smoke in the valley,” said WATE 6 On Your Side Meteorologist Justin Kiefer, adding that the weather pattern may not be changing for a while. “We may be dealing with this tomorrow.”

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