The tornado-ravaged Chatata Valley fell victim to the winds and fire, catalysts for a possible catastrophic event for the second time in just four months.
According to BCFR Chief Dewey Woody, a landowner on Julian Road was burning a small pile of brush left behind by April 27’s tornadoes. The fire reportedly got outside its containment as wind gusts up to 25 mph carried hot embers, spreading the fire quickly out of control.
Three homes were evacuated along Benton Pike just after firefighters arrived on the scene and assessed the possibility of the fire spreading toward the structures.
Fire personnel from surrounding counties in Tennessee and Georgia responded to the scene to help contain the blaze, which covered approximately 85 acres at its height.
Treetops glowed as the fire spread in the valley and hot embers floated on the wind to Covenant Hills and Climer Road.
About an hour or so into the event, Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers and Bradley County Sheriff’s deputies aided in warning residents of Covenant Hills and along Climer Road of the impending possibility the fire could jump Benton Pike. Approximately 40 homeowners evacuated Covenant Hills while others along Climer Road were told they may want to move to safer areas.
“We had approximately 120 firefighters on scene, including state forestry plows and fire personnel,” Woody said Sunday.
Throughout the day and even this morning, firefighters continued to monitor hotspots.
During the event Saturday, hot embers sparked fires hundreds of yards away from where firefighters were concentrating their efforts. Assisting at the scene were Cleveland-Bradley County Emergency Management Agency, Hiwassee Chapter of the American Red Cross and Bradley County Emergency Medical Service and firefighters from Hamilton, Polk, and McMinn counties, North Georgia counties, Cleveland and others.
“We want to thank all who came to help us with this,” Woody said, “It was bad but could have been a great deal worse.”
Willie Parker, a resident of Covenant Hills, watched along with other residents, concerned about the possibility they could lose their homes just months after the devastating tornadoes.
Reflecting on April 27, Parker said he and his wife huddled in a safe room inside their home as a tornado struck, causing air pressure changes in the house and slamming a door open and closed.
“Now here we are with this,” Parker said Saturday as he watched firefighters pour water in a woodline to protect homes on the north side of Benton Pike.
Although burning debris and brush left behind by the tornadoes has been ongoing and permits through Tennessee State Forestry are open at this time, Woody indicated dry conditions due to no recent rainfall magnify the possibility of fires getting out of control. He urged everyone to exercise good judgment when considering burning brush.