The permit process for outdoor burning in Tennessee was suspended Tuesday by a state forestry official due to dry conditions.
Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry state forester Steve Scott said little rainfall and low humidity necessitated the directive banning local forestry centers from issuing burning permits to property owners.
"It's extremely dry, and we're experiencing an increase in wildfire activity across the state," said Scott in a statement issued to the media.
"With most areas being well below average in rainfall and with very little precipitation predicted in the near future, we are suspending the issuance of burning permits in the state until further notice."
The end of the Tennessee fire season is May 15, but the office was not encouraged enough by the latest precipitation numbers from area weather stations to persuade them from the ban.
The Tri-Cities marked its fifth-driest February on record, according to data from the National Weather Service, with localities receiving only 1.02 inches of rain, almost 2.5 inches below normal.
All residents in Tennessee counties must receive a permit, which are free of charge, from area forestry offices before they participate in such fire activities as brush clearing and leaf burning.
In the city of Kingsport, burning of any type is strictly prohibited, with services available for picking up unwanted brush and outdoor debris.
Those caught without a permit can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, although many of the fires so far this year in the Volunteer State involve people who didn't care if they had a permit or not.
Scott said Tuesday that 40 percent of wildfires contained in the state in 2007 were the work of arsonists. That crime is a Class C felony punishable by a three- to 15-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine.
In March alone, Tennessee forestry officials helped in containing fires that blazed across 15,000 acres - three-fourths of the acreage consumed by fire this year, which is currently at 19,000 acres.
A report issued Tuesday by Tennessee forestry officials states 32 fires in the Greeneville reporting district have resulted in 658 acres being destroyed by arsonists.
In Virginia, the southwest portion of the state has seen more acres destroyed by fire than any other part of the state so far.
The latest fire report issued by the Virginia Department of Forestry on Tuesday showed 4,506 acres in the Abingdon reporting region charred by 145 fires since Jan. 1.
Arson has been a leading factor in those fires, according regional forester Ed Stoots, with 20 suspicious fires currently under investigation in Southwest Virginia.
Virginia's 4 p.m. burning law is still in effect until April 30, which does not allow any outdoor fires until after 4 p.m., although Stoots says local fire officials would prefer that burning to take place later in the evening because of low humidity levels.
For current fire reports in Tennessee and Virginia, visit the following sites on the Internet:
•Tennessee Division of Forestry: www.state.tn.us/agriculture/forestry/.
•Virginia Department of Forestry: www.dof.virginia.gov.