BY NELSON MORAIS
NEWPORT PLAIN TALK
A forest fire has reportedly burned an estimated 340 acres in the southern portion of Cocke County, in the Cherokee National Forest, said Cliff King, forestry technician for Cocke County.
The Hall Top Wildfire is located three miles east of Interstate 40's Wilton Springs exit (the 440 exit), Unaka District Ranger Terry Bowerman said this morning.
Light rains early today are believed to have dampened the blaze but not extinguished it, said forestry officials at a press briefing this morning.
Firefighters were dispatched from their briefing at Division of Forestry offices on Highway 73 to the location of the wildfire to determine what effect the rains might have had on the fire.
Especially worrisome to firefighters is that 18 to 22 mph winds are expected later today at the fire's location, to be followed by four equally worrisome clear, dry days.
A lightning strike is believed to have started the fire on Saturday.
Firefighters were informed Monday by a citizen's 911 call that a wildfire was spreading. About 2 p.m. that day, the first firefighters arrived on the scene, Bowerman said.
Bowerman, whose office is at Unaka District headquarters on the Asheville Highway (Tenn. Rt. 70) in Greene County, said it's unlikely the fire will spread to the Greene County section of the Cherokee National Forest.
"I think the chances of it spreading into Greene County are slim," Bowerman said.
Cocke County Mayor Vaughn Moore said this morning that 80 to 100 firefighters from numerous crews, plus equipment, are working to contain and put out the fire.
The Grassy Fork Volunteer Fire Department firefighters assisted in the battle on Wednesday. The Cocke County Fire Department and others are on standby.
Moore said elite Cherokee "Hot Shots" firefighters from Florida are on their way to Cocke County and should be on the scene today to assist.
The fire is primarily contained to the Cherokee National Forest, and "very little" private property is involved.
Firefighters effectively took defensive action Wednesday evening to protect one cabin in Raven Branch that the wildfire threatened.