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Wind fuels Johnson Co. fire; several acres burned

By Meredith Machen, mmachen@wcyb.com
Published On: Mar 20 2013 02:58:40 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 20 2013 11:00:00 PM CDT

Tennessee forestry officials tells us a fire sparked Tuesday afternoon after a tree fell on top of a power line on Rhea Road in Johnson County.

JOHNSON COUNTY, Tenn. -

Tennessee forestry officials tells us a fire sparked Tuesday afternoon after a tree fell on top of a power line on Rhea Road in Johnson County. View photos here.

A fire still smolders in Johnson County with a sea of ashes sloping down a mountain. It's what left of a massive blaze just off Highway 421 near Mountain City that spread to 14 acres Tuesday evening, putting over 50 firefighters in danger.

"The first call came in initially as a power outage," said James Brown, chief of the Second District Volunteer Fire Department.

Residents said a massive tree was uprooted and hit a power line on its way down, causing sparks to fly. Then, brush caught fire. "[The fire] was very small and contained, about 20 or 30 yards around. With the wind, in about five minutes, it had tripled in size and started climbing up the mountain," local resident Marty Anderson described.

Brown told us flames were 10 feet high and spreading beyond fire lines because of 20 mile-per-hour wind gusts. "As quick as they'd get one established, the wind would pick up more, and it would jump that and keep going," said Brown.

It was a frightening scene for Max Cuddy, whose home sat right outside one of the burn barriers. "It was nerve-wracking, you know, because the wind was blowing different directions. It just kept moving around," Cuddy said.

That's why fire officials warn extra caution burning this time of year. "Usually March is a really windy month. You need to be really aware when you're burning," Brown advised.

Especially since just this week, 160 acres and 65 cabins were damaged by wind-fueled flames in Pigeon Forge. Click here to read more about that story.

"It could have been a lot worse," added Brown.

We asked officials for facts on burning regulations:

Tennessee forestry officials told us Johnson, Carter, and Hawkins Counties are not issuing burn permits for the time being, burning in other counties must be approved by a permit.

In Virginia, no one is allowed to burn before 4:00 p.m. until April 30, if it's within 300 feet of woodland, brush land, or fields.

View photos of the fire here.