The fall fire season is here and Loudon County residents are now required to obtain a permit before burning outside.
The burn permit season will stick around until May 15.
Nathan Waters, assistant district forester for the Forestry Division of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, said there is an increased risk of uncontrollable fires during the winter months, hence the reason for the state law.
"In the summer and the spring, a lot of times people don't notice but the humidity goes up inside the forest," Waters said. "Humidity is up a little higher because the sun is not hitting it and drying it as fast, say in a hay field. It makes a difference.
"Here in Tennessee and the Southeast, most of our driest conditions usually, if you talk to a meteorologist, that's (October to May) usually our driest time of the year," he said. "I know we get a lot of snow, but really that's the driest time of the year."
For those not obeying the law, Waters said it's a class C misdemeanor, meaning up to 30 days in jail and/or a $50 fine.
"And it's up to the judge too. If the judge sees a repeat offender, I've seen them do more than that," he said. "If it escaped, you can even be charged suppression charges and that can be thousands of dollars."
So far this year, 787 fires have burned 6,634 acres statewide.
"And also usually after December, January when we start getting freezes when the leaves are on the ground, it will freeze, and it will take the rest of the moisture out of the leaves," he said. "It's almost like freeze drying the rest of the moisture, and most of the leaves get really brittle."
To make things a little easier, residents can obtain a burn permit online at http://www.burnsafetn.org/
Individuals obtaining online permits will go through a series of screens in which they must read and click to acknowledge the fire laws and state restrictions. Loudon County residents can also call 865-986-8395 to obtain a permit.
Those living within city limits face a different story. If the property requesting a burn permit is within city limits or a restricted area, the owner is responsible for obtaining a permit from the city or local ordinance.
Lenoir City and Loudon require burn permits year round because of the close proximity of buildings.
Interim Loudon Fire Chief Travis Gray said permits within city limits depend on weather conditions. "It's for the safety of the community mostly," Gray said.
Both Lenoir City and Loudon only allow natural vegetation to be burned.
"You have to be a certain distance from buildings and only burn vegetation," Gray said. "If they can, put it out for the street pickup because we have that option in the city."
To obtain a burn permit in Lenoir City, call 865-986-2310. To obtain a permit in Loudon, call station one at 865-408-0408, station two at 865-458-3558 or Gray's office at 865-408-0409.
"At that point we find out what they're burning, where they're going to be at," Gray said. "We'll go out and look at the site and make sure they are not going to be burning illegal material, (burn pile) sizes are not too big and within their capabilities of monitoring. Then if we feel like it meets all criteria then we will issue it."
If in doubt on whether a resident lives in city limits, Waters stressed to play it safe and call the local fire department.
Permits are free to all residents and are not required for recreational fires, such as those in a chimenea or a campfire. Those burning debris piles larger than 8 feet by 8 feet or multiple locations must contact the local forestry office for a permit.
"We just ask people to be safe," Waters said. "If we can do prevention it keeps us from wasting state money if we can prevent them in the first place, and just to be careful. If they see an arsonist in the woods, call and report it to local 911, and they will get a hold of the appropriate people."
For more information on burning conditions or how to maintain a safe fire, contact the county forestry office at 865-986-8395. For more information about air quality and pollution regulations, contact the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation at 1-888-891-TDEC or visit http://www.tdec.net/apc