Many Scott Countians have woken up in a haze of smoke this week as several brush fires set in October continue to smolder.
Keith Hamby has been a forestry technician for 27 years and says widespread fire activity comes in cycles.
"The last real bad time we had in Scott County was '99-2000, 2001, and then the previous one was 1986-87," he recounted Monday morning. "It's extremely dry now."
Officials suspect several fires across the county were intentionally set. West Robbins saw a fire set in the early morning hours of Oct. 17 that was contained by firefighting crews, but it was reset and began threatening homes on the evening of Oct. 18. Some residents were briefly evacuated from their homes.
On Oct. 19, forestry crews received a call about a fire at Little Bull Creek that spread to the Bull Creek area itself and burnt all the way to the top of the mountain towards communication towers. GPS estimates say 1,397 acres burned in that fire. That fire is contained, and crews continue to check on it.
Another fire was set near the old airbag factory in Winfield on Oct. 27 and burned approximately 22 acres. Crews have also fought fires in Fairview, Glenmary, and on Ditney Mountain.
"Most of the fires that are going on in Scott County have been arson sets," Hamby explained. He is thankful that the large majority of residents have been very careful with burning in the drought conditions.
Hamby was initially concerned that more fires would be set Halloween night, but Scott County was spared, he said Tuesday morning.
Instead, fire crews from Scott County went to assist with fires in Stinking Creek and Elk Valley.
Though fires in Scott County have either been contained or have burned themselves out, the smoke continues to linger--though much of it is actually from fires in Campbell and Anderson counties.
Despite the dry conditions, there have been no burn bans implemented at the local or state level because fire crews in Scott County and elsewhere have been able to keep their fire situations under control, according to John Kirksey, a fire chief with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry.
"So far the situation has been fairly manageable. If we cross a certain threshold, we might consider doing county-wide burn bans," Kirksey said on Monday.
Local authorities have the power to declare a burn ban in their jurisdiction, but the state's agriculture commissioner, Jai Templeton, has the authority to issue burn bans on a county-by-county basis. In extreme situations, the governor himself could issue a state-wide ban.
"We've used it (the governor's burn ban) in the past. It's been some years ago--15 years or so--we had to use that two or three consecutive years," Kirksey explained. "The statewide burn ban is very cumbersome because the governor has to lift the ban in some counties and then the next day other counties...It's easier to use the commissioner's burn ban, even for multiple counties. We do each county separately so we can lift the ban in each county."
Locally, Hamby says the fire danger won't pass until the area sees a good amount of rainfall.
"We'll need a substantial amount of rain to get us out of these drought conditions," he said.
There is a chance for rain on Thursday afternoon as a cold front moves through, and a slight chance again on Tuesday. In the last 30 days, Scott County has averaged less than an inch of rainfall according to the National Weather Service.