NASHVILLE (AP) — The wildfire season has arrived in Tennessee and state Forestry Division officials have a new tool that might make it a safer one.
As in past seasons, people must obtain a daily burn permit. New this year is an online option that Division of Forestry officials hope will head off some fires.
The season runs from Oct. 15 to May 15.
For the first time statewide, people can apply and receive a burn permit online at any time on any day that conditions are favorable. When it’s too dry or two windy, the website blocks the permit section.
Applying online gives people access to tips on safe burning.
“People really want to do the right thing,” said John Kirksey, forest resource protection unit leader for the division.
Despite drought conditions that existed at one time or another over the summer nearly everywhere except the mountains, timely rain in late summer and into the fall have improved field and woods moisture. Officials say the outlook for the number of fires is about the same as last season, when 737 fires burned a total of 9,912 acres.
Phillip Blakely at the Forestry Division office in Lexington said there are regional differences in how wildfires are fought. It’s more mechanized in the flat farmland of West Tennessee.
Firefighting in East Tennessee is very different, largely because of the terrain. Arson is also more common in the region.
Bulldozer-mounted fire plows are an important tool, but steep slopes can limit their effectiveness and there is a lot of hand work involved in snuffing out a mountain blaze.
Nathan Waters in the Knoxville office of the Forestry Division said the human element is the best tool.
“Experience is worth a ton,” Waters said.
Three factors come together in something of a fire triangle in eastern wildfires. The same elements of oxygen and fuel are required, but there’s the added problem of terrain, where a wind-driven fire dries out the fuel front of it and races up a slope.
“It will go hot and fast,” Waters said.
Phelps noted that so far in 2012, 27 percent of the wildfires statewide were caused by arson. Those fires account for nearly half the acreage burned, however, because they’re usually set in remote places and burn undetected for a long time.