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Crews continue fighting forest fires, encourage safe burning practices

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The lack of rainfall and constant winds have been creating a problem for fire crews in our area. According to our Stormtrack 5 meteorologists, the rainfall deficit for the Tri-Cities is more than seven inches. Right now, crews are battling at least three fires in our region. According to the Department of Forestry, there are two separate fires in Sullivan County which have burned 40 acres so far. Investigators believe arson is the suspected cause in both. However, the largest area fire is on Chimney Top Mountain covering land in Greene, Washington, and Hawkins Counties. That fire has now burned nearly 1,000 acres, but crews say it is fully contained. Fourteen forestry members are working on monitoring the fire and keeping the flames contained. We are told this all started with a campfire. "I've been watching it because our houses could burn up. I realize that," Resident Agnes Phillips said. Phillips and her neighbors have been watching the Chimney Top fire move across the mountain for nearly three weeks, and eventually she saw it cross the ridge. That move made it a threat to the home she has lived in for 65 years. Phillips said, "I've saw the mountain burning, but not like it has this year." We watched as the Department of Forestry continued backburning, which is a method to keep the fire from spreading. Now, many of the residents are dealing with the lingering smoke left behind. Elmer Higgins told us he occasionally uses oxygen. However, for the past few days, he has had to wear it to bed because of the smoke. "Every evening about 5 or 6 o'clock, the smoke starts coming in - the dew, as the humidity comes down, it brings the smoke in," Higgins said. The residents living close by could be dealing with the smoke for several more week all because a campfire was not put out properly. That led us to find out from firefighters how to keep such a fire from getting out of control. "Fire has to have oxygen. It has to have fuel, and it has to have heat. If you've already built your fire and it's burning leaves and you've got leaves and dead grass surrounding it, you still have fuel for that fire to spread," Pat Boone said. Boone is the public information officer for the Fall Branch Volunteer Fire Department. Boone warned a fire should not be allowed to get any bigger than the wood in the fire. "It doesn't hurt to have them over a sand or rock area, something you know cannot burn," he said. When it comes to making sure it is out, Boone said it is best to use extra caution. "If it looks like it's out and you touch it, and it's still hot, it's probably too hot to leave." Right now, we are in the peak of fire season. Between October and May, anyone who wants to burn in Tennessee must request a burn permit. We checked with the Department of Forestry and learned several counties in the state are not issuing burn permits today. The counties that are have only restricted permits, which allow burning for part of the day. You can get those permits by phone or online at http://burnsafetn.org/

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