Tennessee’s wildfire season officially began on Thursday.

In conjunction with wildfire season awareness, the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance and the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office reminds Tennesseans to always obtain a debris burn permit before burning leaves or debris.

Officials also urge residents to focus on safe burning practices all season in order to help prevent fires including wildfires.

“While Tennesseans are spending time outside this fall practicing socially distant activities, we remind everyone to always obtain a debris burn permit before burning leaves and incorporate basic fire safety measures into their outdoor agenda. These simple safety steps can prevent a potentially tragic wildfire from ever occurring,” TDCI Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Hodgen Mainda said in a news release.

From Oct. 15 through May 15, anyone starting an open-air fire in Tennessee within 500 feet of a forest, grassland or woodland must by law obtain a burn permit.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry provides burn permits for leaf and brush piles online at no charge. For larger, broadcast burning, such as forestry, agricultural, and land clearing, call the local Division of Forestry burn permit phone number between 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The online system for permits and phone numbers can be found at www.BurnSafeTN.org. The state Division of Forestry phone number for Greene County residents who need a burn permit is 423-638-7841.

Permits are issued only when conditions are conducive to safe burning. If you live inside city limits, there may be additional restrictions.

“Check with your local municipality before you burn,” the release said.

The Mosheim Volunteer Fire Department this week posted a message on Facebook about wildfire season.

“If you’re going to burn brush (and) natural vegetation (you must) have a burn permit. Remember, natural wood and natural vegetation is the only legal thing you’re allowed to burn. You must acquire a burn permit from the forestry service if you live in the county starting Oct. 15 through May 15.

“If you burn, you must stay with the burn pile (and) not leave it unattended. You must be able to have control of it if your fire causes pollution or gets on to somebody else’s property, you are legally responsible,” the fire department post said.

“Be safe and burn responsibly,“ it continued.

“Permits will not be issued on days and in locations if it is considered unsafe to conduct a debris burn,” the fire department post said.

Before burning, the Division of Forestry urges residents to follow the following precautions to help ensure outdoor burning is conducted properly:

  • Avoid burning on dry and/or windy days.
  • Burn late in the day after the wind has quieted and humidity begins to increase, usually after 5 p.m. Check to see if weather changes are expected. Outdoor burning should be postponed if shifts in wind direction, higher winds or wind gusts.
  • Before doing any burning, establish wide control lines down to bare mineral soil at least five feet wide around any burn barrels and even wider around brush piles and other piled debris to be burned. The larger the debris pile, the wider the control line needed to ensure that burning materials will not be blown or roll off the pile into vegetation outside the line.
  • Stay with all outdoor fires until they are completely out.
  • Keep water and hand tools ready in case a fire should attempt to spread. Those burning in a burn barrel or other trash container must be sure it is equipped with a half-inch mesh screen or metal grid to keep burning material contained.
  • Stay abreast of wildfire danger levels and heed warnings and burn bans.
  • Be aware of where smoke is going. Avoid burning when smoke will be bothersome to neighbors or sensitive locations such as highways.

A list of materials that may not be burned can be found in the open burning guidelines from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Burning without a permit is a Class C misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine. Wildfires caused by arson are a Class C felony punishable by three to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. Anyone with information about an arson should call the Arson Hotline at 1-800-762-3017.

The Arson Hotline is a phone line dedicated to receiving information about suspicious and incendiary fires. It is answered 24 hours a day and callers can remain anonymous when providing information.

Cash awards, provided solely through the generous assistance of the Tennessee Advisory Committee on Arson , are offered for information leading to an arrest or conviction.

To report illegal burning, call 1-888-891-TDEC.

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