Sevier County is the latest area of Tennessee to be placed under a burn ban due to drought conditions.
State Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton has issued a burn ban for Claiborne, Jefferson, Loudon and Sevier Counties. The burn ban is effective immediately and will remain in place until further notice.
“Sevier County has requested that the Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture declare a burning ban prohibiting all open-air fire due to the extreme fire hazard in the county,” said Sevier County Spokesperson Perrin Anderson. “This would not apply to fires that may be set within the corporate limits or any incorporated town or city that has passed an ordinance controlling the setting of fires.”
The burn ban prohibits all open-air burning, including leaf and woody debris and construction burning, campfires, outdoor grills and other fire activity in areas outside of municipalities where local ordinances apply.
Examples of prohibited fires or burning during the burn ban:
- fence rows
- ditch banks
- construction debris
- boards, plywood, decking, etc.
- wooded areas
- cooking fires
- grills, charcoal or wood fired (but not natural or propane gas fired)
- burn barrels
- household waste
- air curtain destructors
Under state law, the Commissioner of Agriculture, in consultation with the state forester, has the authority to issue burn bans at the request of county mayors under certain weather conditions. Requests for a burn ban are considered based on a number of factors including weather, climate, fire danger, fire occurrence and resource availability.
A violation of a burn ban issued by the Commissioner is considered reckless burning and is punishable as a Class A misdemeanor which carries a fine of $2,500 and/or up to 11 months 29 days in jail.
“Due to dry conditions and little prospect for rain, firefighters are seeing an increase in fire activity across the state,” Commissioner Templeton said. “The public should use good judgment and avoid situations that cause fire and put citizens, property and emergency workers at risk.”
From October 15 through May 15, anyone starting an open-air fire in Tennessee within 500 feet of a forest, grassland, or woodland must secure a burning permit from the Division of Forestry. The free permit can be obtained by phone or on online at www.BurnSafeTN.org. Like Gatlinburg, local jurisdictions may have other ordinances and permitting systems in place for open-air burning.
Gatlinburg Fire Department Suspends Issuing Burn Permits
The City of Gatlinburg issued its own burn ban on Thursday, stating the fire department would not be issuing any burn permits at this time. Campgrounds within the city may allow campfires that are enclosed and contained with appropriate fire rings or other barrier materials (stone, brick, metal).
“We have experienced an exceptionally dry late summer and fall season and are experiencing severe drought conditions,” says City of Gatlinburg Spokesperson Marci Claude. “These dry conditions combined with the increased fuel load from the fall foliage are creating potentially hazardous fire conditions.”
Gatlinburg officials will re-evaluate conditions on November 15 regarding an ending date of the ban.
Smokies Restricts Backcountry Campfires
Earlier this week, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced a temporary ban on campfires in the park’s backcountry effective immediately. Due to extremely dry weather conditions and the amount of fresh leaf litter on the ground, the potential for escaped fires to occur in the backcountry has dramatically increased. The fire restriction will be in effect until further notice
The fire ban only applies to campers utilizing the park’s 100+ backcountry sites and shelters. It does not affect campers at the park’s nine frontcountry (developed) campgrounds or picnickers using fire grills at picnic areas. Fires at developed areas must be confined to designated fire rings and grills. All visitors are asked to take certain precautions to help reduce the risk of wildfires. This includes extinguishing frontcountry fires by mixing water with embers in fire rings and grills. Use of backpacking stoves is still permitted at backcountry campsites.
“With the current drought conditions, it is imperative that we reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires during this period of extreme fire danger,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “The park has not banned backcountry campfires since 2007, but these unusually dry conditions warrant the restriction.”
Backpackers should be aware that this drought situation affects the availability of water at springs at backcountry campsites and shelters throughout the park. At some locations where there is a running spring, it can take more than five minutes to fill a quart-sized bottle. The following backcountry campsites are currently known to be without water: 5, 6, 16, 26, 113, Mollies Ridge Shelter, Russell Field Shelter, Spence Field Shelter, Silers Bald Shelter, Double Spring Gap Shelter, and Pecks Corner Shelter. Other campsites may be without water as the drought conditions continue. Backpackers are encouraged to carefully consider their itinerary and carry extra water for those sites that are not located along major water sources.
For more information about backcountry trip planning, please visit the park website or call the backcountry office at 865-436-1297.