County issues burn ban

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

As severe heat and dry conditions continue to bear down on local farmers and residents, Loudon County has become the latest municipality to be granted a ban on open-air burning from the state.

Loudon County Mayor Estelle Herron said she emailed the state on Monday after consulting with John Goddard, University of Tennessee Extension agent and county director.

"I had kind of brought it up over the weekend because I was so concerned about the fireworks over at (Rockin' the Docks), those sparks flying," Herron said on Monday. "And then I got to thinking about it, and I thought, 'Oh, I need to talk to John Goddard,' so he and I together this morning first thing and got some emails popping to Nashville, and I've signed it."

The ban, which is now in effect, carries a fine of $2,500 or up to 11 months, 29 days in jail.

District Forester Thomas Dailey said East Tennessee has seen some unusual weather in the last few months that necessitated numerous burn bans across the state. As of this week, the state has issued bans for at least 10 counties.

"I think a lot of people got a little bit of relief last night from the precipitation, but it's exceedingly dry, somewhat reminiscent of '98 I guess was the year that we had a summer drought that was like this; 2000 was sort of like this. We have an exceptionally droughty, dry, hot time."

He said this part of the state typically doesn't experience such dry air conditions.

"That's just not normal for East Tennessee," Dailey said. "We normally, along with lightning, get precipitation. Normally with heat we have humidity, and we've had very low relative humidity, which has made the extreme heat a little more bearable, but it's peculiar weather and many counties are doing the burn bans just trying to reduce the incidents of fire within the counties."

Goddard said the dry and hot conditions have far-reaching effects for local farmers who have to protect their crops and animals.

"That was my major concern," he said about the farmers. "We've got a lot of crops out there as well as hay fields that are really dry, and our farmers continue to struggle and a fire could put them out of business."

He said he was pleased the city of Loudon canceled its fireworks show this week.

"We don't want Loudon County to look like Colorado," Goddard said.

He said that when Herron contacted him about issuing a burn ban, he checked with residents across the county to make sure the dry conditions were widespread.

"We got some rain in some parts of the county the last couple evenings, and that has helped, but we were really crispy and ready for a disaster prior to that," Goddard said. "And it'll get back there again if we don't continue to get some more rain because anybody that's been outside and walked around, you can here the grass crunching under your feet."

Dailey said that as a rule, his office was asking residents to refrain from burning altogether.

"We're statewide asking people to just not burn," Dailey said. "It's just not a good time to burn. You're going to be miserable. The law requires you to stay with the fire, and if you're burning much you're going to be out in the extreme heat for a period of hours to comply with the law and to be safe, and that's just not fun."

Goddard said some farmers were taking steps to try to mitigate the negative effects of the drought.

"Some of the more proactive ones have already purchased hay," Goddard said. "Like, we've got one guy, he's been going up to the other side of Knoxville and buying his hay and bringing it in because he doesn't feel like we're going to have a second cutting of hay, and he's probably right."

He said another farmer was selling his animals early, while others were erecting structures to shade their cows or letting them stay inside barns.

"A lot of them are selling their cattle because they know they're not going to have enough (grass), so they're going ahead and selling them now instead of waiting until the cows get skinny," he said.

Dailey said the benefits of burning right now were not worth the risks involved. He also cautioned residents who were planning to celebrate the holiday with fireworks.

"We're here on the threshold of the Fourth of July," Dailey said. "We ask everyone if you must use fireworks, be extremely safe. Wet down an area that you're going to shoot fireworks. Keep a water hose handy and have someone just looking for fire."

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