Update Wednesday, 4:55 p.m.
Officials say two new fires were set Wednesday afternoon near the original fire in Cocke County. The fires are not contained, but no structures are threatened. Highway 25/70 is closed between Bluff Road and State Route 340.
DEL RIO, Tenn. (WATE) – Wildfires that burned more than 1,000 acres in Cocke County are mostly contained, however, investigators said they believe the fires were started on purpose.
Investigators said about 1,238 wildfires have burned across the state and almost 50 percent of those fires are suspected arson. Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security commissioner David Purkey said there have been seven arson arrests in the last 20 days and they are still investigating several cases.
These arrests come just as the state’s arson reward fund grows. The Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation and the Tennessee Forestry Association have committed donations to the fund. Now, citizens may receive as much as $2500 for a tip that leads to an arson arrest and conviction.
The arson hotline is 1-800-762-3017 and is answered 24 hours a day. Callers may remain anonymous.
Purkey said he takes it personally when the land he loves is set on fire. He said the fires will not be tolerated.
“Look over your shoulder. If you’re going to engage in this type of activity and destroy the beautiful forest land in our communities, we’re coming for you and we’re not far behind you,” said Purkey.
Monroe County Deputies arrested Charles Edward Martin, age 50 of Madisonville, Tennessee Monday for deliberately setting a fire along Gamble Road. He is charged with setting fire to personal property or land, reckless burning, and resisting arrest.
Matthew Ryan Wallace, age 27 of Tuscaloosa, Ala. was also charged Monday with setting fire to personal property or land after he was accused of starting a wildfire in Sequatchie County. The charge is punishable by up to six years of incarceration and a fine up to $3,000.
Due to the ongoing drought and destructive wildfires, Governor Bill Haslam has ordered a regional burn ban for East Tennessee. A violation of a burn ban is punishable as a Class A misdemeanor which carries a fine of $2,500 and/or up to 11 months 29 days in jail.
Firefighters monitor hot spots on Neddy Mountain
A wildfire on Needdy Mountain is 100 percent contained, but crews were still monitoring hot spots Tuesday afternoon.
Firefighter Matthew Mattox traveled from Oklahoma to help fight the fires. He said the fire with the steep terrain, the wildfire was a little more than he expected.
“The flames were pretty good, high flames, probably about 20 feet high flames and just really hot, really very hot,” said Mattox.
Mattox said his main focus is back-burning, where crews burn a fire-line with a drip torch to help contain the fire. He said crews have been working 12 to 15 hours per day.
Cocke County Community offers support
Members of several Newport businesses are collecting donations for the crews containing the fire on Neddy Mountain in Del Rio.
“These guys are like family to us,” said Terra Ray, manager of the Cosby Highway Subway. “They’re here all the time, our kids have been raised up together, we’re friends, families, so, it’s just part of it.”
Both Newport Food City stores came together to collect food for the crews.
“We just decided to do what we could to help out and we have also reached out to our vendor community and several of our vendors have offered to donate some things as well, Coke has, Little Debbie, Frito Lay, have partnered with us,” said Manager Adam Wade.
The businesses say this kind of support shows how close of a community the Cocke County area is.
“I think it is a tight nit community at the end of the day,” said Food City Manager Mark Sandburg. “It speaks volumes to the character of not only the company that we work for, but it speaks volumes of the locals and how in a time of need everyone comes together.”