Knoxville (WVLT) - Dry air, little rain, and hot temperatures have turned East Tennessee forests into thousands of acres of kindling. Monday marks the start of the official fire season. The Department of Agriculture says this year's drought could make it the fiercest yet.
Volunteer TV's Mike McCarthy's been talking with forestry officials and shows us how the drought's already struck a match in some areas.
The last five years, Tennessee wildfires have burned an average of about 17,000 acres a year, but this year, they've already turned more than 41,000 acres to ashes.
One of those acres cost one Knoxville family a home.
It was the phone call Betty Rader never expected.
"Is this Mrs. Rader? Yes. This is the fire department and we're informing your your cabin burned," Rader said.
The Raders' weekend getaway, along with five acres at Top of World, turned to ashes in May.
"The arson people said it looked like an accident. Somebody just was clumsy," husband Gene Rader said.
A home-away-from-home for 20 years gone up in smoke.
"It was a shock," Gene said.
Shock that could spread with more wildfires across Tennessee. All because of...
"The drought. We came out of last year and we were already in a drought," said Nathan Waters from the Division of Forestry.
Today marks the start of the state's official fire season, and the drought's made kindling abundant.
"Usually we don't see a lot of fires till after our first frost, and it sucks all the moisture out of the leaves. Right now a lot of them are dry on the trees," Waters said.
At least those that are still even on the trees.
"They're shutting down and saying, 'well I need to cut my losses and try to grow some more next year,'" Waters said.
"We average about 17 to 18 thousand acres of fire," Waters said.
Already this year, that's more than doubled to 41,000 acres scorched.
"And october and november are two months that we burn in. We have a lot of fires," Waters said.
So many the Division of Forestry had you asking permission to burn sooner than normal.
"We enacted the burn permits system earlier this year," Waters said.
Waters says humans start most of the fires. So...watch your cigarettes. Build a five foot control line around all fires and keep water handy. Don't leave any fire unattended. Advice that might have saved the Raders' cabin.
"We just accept it was an accident, nothing we could have done about it," Gene said.
Forestry officials say the last time the fire season was this bad was in 2001. That's when wildfires burned about 80,000 acres. The fire season runs through May 15th.
Until then, you must call your local Division of Forestry for a permit. Forestry officials say they'll also come personally to your home to show you how to make your home more fire safe. Just ask.
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