Lessons learned in Tennessee wildfires

Blog Post created by RYAN QUINN Employee on Mar 28, 2013


You have probably heard about wildfires in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Last week, 35 buildings were damaged or destroyed in a fast-moving fire.

What you may not know is that just last month, our "Firewise family" in Tennessee -- state and local wildfire specialists, firefighters and community residents of a Firewise Communities/USA recognition site -- experienced another fire very near the same area. In this case, no structures were destroyed, and valuable lessons about wildfire safety came to light. Here's what our Tennessee partners told us:

On Feb 19, 2013, a wildfire struck the Firewise Community of Shagbark, located near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.   A resident reported the fire at 1:30 a.m.; eventually it would be learned that heavy winds snapped a large pine tree that fell across a powerline and started the fire.  Within a couple hours, 50 acres had burned, six fire departments were on scene, evacuations took place, and seven houses were threatened. Two of the houses narrowly missed being destroyed by the blaze.   

On March 8, Firewise Committee members Laurie and Bob Schad and Gray Tustison surveyed the area with Leon Konz, a Wildfire Prevention andFirewise Coordinator for the Tennessee Division of Forestry.  The objective was to see what lessons could be learned from the wildfire to share with the community.  Here’s what they came up with:

  • Firewise practices work. The house nearest to the starting point almost certainly would have been ignited if the leaves and pines needles had not been removed last fall.
  • Reemphasize the need to keep vegetation away from propane tanks.  A tank near one of the structures was blackened due to vegetation surrounding it.  
  • Reemphasize the need to keep evergreen trees and shrubs a safe distance from the house.   At one location, tall evergreens near, and higher than, the deck were partially consumed indicating that they almost “torched out”.  Torching would have likely ignited the deck.
  • The Community Wildfire Protection Plan was helpful.  The “Action Plan” within it, coupled with a wildfire hazard mitigation grant, put the residents in a better position to protect their community.

The Firewise Committee plans to share with their fellow Shagbark community residents the lessons learned by posting information on their website, through newsletters, and by reports at their annual meeting.   They hope that the lessons learned from this fire will make more homes safer, especially through an increase in requests for home ignition zone assessments.

Photo: Shagbark Firewise Committee members survey fire damage and Firewise practices following the February 19 fire. Photo and story courtesy Leon Konz, Tennessee Firewise coordinator. See more about Tennessee's Firewise activities in the Fall 2012 How To Newsletter starting on page 10.