KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — As the year 2022 approaches its end, we’re taking a look back at the wildland fires covered in East Tennessee these last 11-plus months. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry fights and extinguishes more than 2,500 wildfires that burn each year in all of the Volunteer State.
According to the Division of Forestry or TDF, wildland fires occur year-round, especially during periods of drought. There are essentially two fire seasons here: Spring fire season and Fall fire season. TDF’s website states that during a crisis, Division of Forestry employees works closely with volunteer firefighters and rescue squads.
Below is a timeline of wildfires fought in East Tennessee this past year:
Spring fire season
March/April: Wears Valley wildfire
A wildland fire began burning on Hatcher Mountain Road at Indigo Lane in Sevier County on Wednesday, March 30. The fire was officially named the Hatcher Mountain-Indigo Lane fire began at 20 acres, then later spanned some 2,500 acres. It impacted more than 200 structures.
Evacuation orders were issued for residents within a certain radius of the fire; no fatalities were reported. The Pigeon Forge Community City operated as a temporary shelter for displaced residents.
By Tuesday, April 5, the fire was reported 100% contained.
March/April: Sevier County/Blount County fire
A wildland fire began burning in Seymour/Dupont near the Sevier-Blount county line on Thursday, March 31. By Friday, the wildfire spanned some 575 acres. The fire was officially named the Millstone Gap fire and burned almost simultaneously as the Hatcher Mountain-Indigo Lane fire.
A hotshot crew specializing in wildfire suppression worked the fire Friday, April 1. By Monday, April 4 the Millstone Gap fire was 75% contained. One structure in Sevier County and one structure in Blount County were impacted by the fire.
By Thursday, April 7 The Millstone Gap/Dupont fire was reported 100% contained. The fire had grown up to 959 acres; however, the Tennessee Division of Forestry officials said that was a planned wildfire spread.
By Wednesday, April 20, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee issued an executive order declaring a major disaster and a state of emergency following the two wildfires that burned over 3,400 acres and impacted 221 structures from March 30 to April 5.
Cause of fires determined
The Department of Agriculture later determined the cause of the two wildfires: power lines downed by strong winds. The state’s investigation revealed that high winds took those lines down, causing them to spark the fires and fueling their growth.
The total estimated property damage in those fires – Hatcher Mountain/Indigo Lane fire and the Millstone Gap fire – topped $65 million with $3 million spent to contain the flames.
April: Campbell County fire
A wildland fire began burning in Jellico in Campbell County on Friday, April 1. The fire was officially named the East Douglas Lane fire and initially burned around 50 acres. No injuries were reported in that fire.
By Tuesday, April 5, the fire was reported to be 100% contained and had burned around 472 acres. A cause was not determined.
Fall fire season
By fall, wildfire season picked back up. TDF says the unofficial start to fall fire season is around Oct. 15 each year. Weather conditions this year were very dry at the start, as September saw not very little rain in the region.
WATE 6 Storm Team Assistant Chief Meteorologist Victoria Cavaliere says there was a total of 2.46″ of rain at the Knoxville airport (McGhee Tyson Airport) in September.
Tennessee crews in late October and early November were busy fighting more than a dozen wildfires in the region. According to TDF, its crews responded to 30 new wildfires by Nov. 10 – the majority of those fires burned in the Cumberland and East Tennesse divisions.
October: Campbell County fire
A wildland fire began burning near the community of Shea in Campbell County on Sunday, Oct. 23. An official name of the fire wasn’t shared, but it began north of Stoney Creek Road. By Tuesday, Oct. 25, TDF reported that the fire covered nearly 150 acres and was reported 100% contained that night.
November: Roane County fire
A wildland fire began as a brush fire off Interstate 40 near mile marker 345 in Roane County on Thursday, Nov. 3. The fire burned some 250 acres on Rockwood Mountain and TDF crews began fighting it in the mountainous terrain. By Friday morning, it was 90% contained.
November: Campbell County fire
A wildland fire began in Campbell County at five-65 acres near North Highway 25 on Wednesday, Nov. 2 near the Tennessee-Kentucky state line. However, with high winds and dry conditions at the time, the fire was able to grow, according to the Assistant District Forester of the TN Division of Forestry Nathan Waters.
The Duff fire, as it was called by TDF, spread some 270 acres and was reported 100% contained by Wednesday, Nov. 9.
November: Sevier County fire
A wildland fire in Sevier County began Saturday, Nov. 5, and was dubbed the Rocky Flats fire by officials. It burned around 177 acres.
A citation was later issued for the Rocky Flats fire. A spokesperson for Sevier County said the person responsible for setting the fire had been burning debris without a permit. By Monday, Nov. 7, the fire was reported 100% contained.
The county had been under a wind advisory that was in effect from Friday through Sunday amid abnormally dry conditions.
November: Blount County fire
A wildland fire began as a vehicle-caused brush fire along “The Dragon” in Blount County after a motorcycle crash on Sunday, Nov. 6. The fire grew to some 40 acres and was later reported 100% contained by Wednesday, Nov. 9.
The wildfire had shut down that area of “The Dragon” and Parson Branch Road as crews worked the scene. The roads later reopened a few days later.
November: Roane County fires
TDF and local crews worked two wildland fires, one of which had been a planned burn and the other that cropped up overnight on Tuesday, Nov. 8 along westbound Interstate 40 in Roane County on Rockwood Mountain.
The two wildfires occurred on either side of I-40: the northside and southside of the interstate.
The northside wildfire burned 90-plus acres and was contained by crews Wednesday, Nov. 9. The southside fire, which was burning near the Airport Road exit off of I-40, was contained by Friday, Nov. 11.
November: Sevier County fire
A wildland fire began late Wednesday, Nov. 9 in the Dudley Creek area near Gatlinburg and initially burned 4 acres. Residents of two apartment buildings nearby were evacuated but allowed to return later Wednesday.
The Dudley Creek area is roughly located between Westgate Resorts and Anakeesta. By Thursday, Nov. 10, TDF reported the fire 100% contained and it had burned 4.8 acres total.
November: Anderson County fire
A wildland fire began late Wednesday, Nov. 9 near the New River Highway in Anderson County. It burned around 100 acres and was later contained by TDF crews.
By Thursday, Nov. 10 Hurricane Nicole was approaching Florida’s east coast and with it, brought some rain to the East Tennessee region.
Current wildfire conditions can be seen on the Division of Forestry data map.