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Caution must be taken to help prevent wildfires

Staff Report • Jun 8, 2012 at 3:52 PM

The wildfire season this spring has not been as active in Tennessee as it has in some other areas of the country. It’s been a particularly eventful wildfire season in many western states. That includes areas in Utah and Nevada, where firefighters are battling several blazes that have scorched nearly 40,000 acres.

One fire is about 25 miles northeast of Caliente, Nev., and is believed to have been started by lightning Friday. The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the crash of an air tanker Sunday that killed two Idaho pilots who were working to contain the blaze.

While parts of Tennessee have seen a dry spring, most of our region has enjoyed above-normal rainfall. Summer, however, could bring much hotter and drier conditions. Officials say caution should always be exercised with all outdoor burning in Tennessee.

During wildfire season, anyone burning without a permit is subject to a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $50 fine. Homeowners can obtain a verbal burning permit by simply calling their local Division of Forestry office listed in the phone directory under state government between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Permits are generally good for 24 hours and can be issued for weekends.

Dry conditions point to the need for residents who live in rural or wooded areas — particularly near our national forests — to take the initiative in trying to protect their homes. That includes keeping 30-foot defensible spaces around structures, pruning shrubs and planting fire-resistant vegetation.

Tennessee officials say almost half the wildfires that occurred last year were a result of arson, which is a Class C felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Those with information about any suspected arson activity should call the state Fire Marshal’s Arson Hotline toll-free at 800-762-3017.

Some areas of the state are not likely to be issued burn permits until they have received substantial rainfall. When conditions improve, citizens should inquire about burn permits by calling their local Division of Forestry office. A directory of state forestry offices by county also can be found on the web at www.burnsafetn.org.

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