Drought changes firefighters’ tactics in fighting Tellico Plains wildfire

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TELLICO PLAINS (WATE) – Firefighters say the Quarry Creek wildfire near Tellico Plains is 80 percent contained and more than 600 acres have been burned. Crews are still working to surround the fire and make sure it doesn’t destroy any more land.

Because East Tennessee is in the midst of a drought, it has changed strategies for firefighters.

“Due to safety as well as some of our terrain issues, we have had to back off farther,” said Andrew Hostad, a fire prevention specialist with the U.S. Forest Service.

Crews are creating indirect containment lines, which means they dig deep down into the soil because dirt doesn’t burn. Then, firefighters send fire back to the main wildfire.

“It needs heat, oxygen and fuel. Fuel to a fire is anything burnable like leaves, trees, grass,” added Hostad.

Burning fuel like that means this tactic is starving the wildfire of what it needs to grow. Crews have also been hand-digging and using dozers.

“Certain places you just can’t use dozers due to the steepness and amount of trees,” said Hostad.

The unusually dry conditions have made it challenging to find natural fire barriers, like creeks. There is a lake at the base of the Quarry Creek wildfire which has helped.

Hostad says firefighters will continue to be out in Tellico Plains making sure the fire does not jump containment lines, “We’re still in very high fire danger. We want people to follow the fire ban and be careful.”

Nearby Tellico Beach Drive-In has been dealing with the threat of wildfire, but firefighters have been coming by the restaurant with maps.

“Keeping us updated on where the fire was and that was nice of them,” said employee Debbie Walker.

Days ago smoke from the wildfire consumed the air just a few hundred feet from the restaurant’s parking lot.

“We never was in no danger but we were always on our toes in case we were,” added Walker.

While firefighters have been working to contain the flames, Tellico Beach Drive-In has been juggling more than just orders.

“People called to see if we were okay, if we’d burned down, if we was open. But we stayed open through the whole thing,” said Walker.

Many employees are grateful to the firefighters who are pushing through to save our community.

“Thank God took care of everybody,” said Walker.

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