New laws taking effect Jan. 1 impact variety of items

By Brad Hicks

The rolling of the calendar to 2017 brought with it a number of new laws in the state of Tennessee.

New legislation that took effect Jan. 1 impacts everything from handgun permits to the alcohol content of beer that can be sold and manufactured in the state.

Several new state laws pertaining to handgun permits took effect on Jan. 1. One reduces the fee of a lifetime handgun carry permit from $500 to $200 for existing permit holders. First-time applicants will be required to pay a one-time fee of $315.

The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam in April 2016.

The age required for some seeking a handgun carry permit was reduced in a law that took effect on New Year’s Day. This law lowers the age for receiving a handgun carry permit from 21 years of age to 18 for persons having been honorably discharged or are retired veterans of the U.S. armed forces or service members on active duty status.

Another handgun permit law now in effect reduces the fee for a lifetime handgun carry permit for certain federal, state and local law enforcement officers. According to the law, the fee will be reduced to $100 for retired law enforcement officers who served at least 10 years prior to retirement and were Peace Officer Standards Training-certified or acquired the equivalent training and retired in good standing “as certified by the chief law enforcement officer of the organization from which the applicant retired.”

Per the law, the applicant must have been a resident of the state of Tennessee on the date of his or her retirement and a state resident on the date the permit application was submitted.

A new law now in effect affects the sentencing for those who commit vehicular homicide while under the influence. Per the law, if this crime involves the use of drugs or alcohol, the defendant will be ineligible for probation.

Under state law, a criminal defendant is generally eligible for probation if the sentence imposed is 10 years or less. However, there are certain offenses that render defendants ineligible for probation despite the sentence, such as aggravated sexual battery, certain drug offenses and aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor.

The new law added vehicle homicide caused by the driver’s intoxication to the list of offenses that render a defendant ineligible for probation.

Like most of the laws that took effect on Jan. 1, the new vehicular homicide legislation was signed by the governor in April 2016.

A law allowing for the sale of high-gravity beers in grocery stores throughout the state and eliminating the additional licensure requirement for the manufacture of higher alcohol beers by breweries in Tennessee also went into effect with the new year. This legislation essentially redefined “high content alcohol beer” as those having an alcoholic content of more than 5 percent by weight to an alcoholic content by weight of more than 8 percent.

This increased the state’s alcohol by volume limit from 6.2 percent to 10.1 percent. Higher gravity beers were available for purchase across the state prior to the law taking effect, but only at package stores and restaurants or bars with liquor licenses. Brewers previously had to obtain a distillery license to manufacture beverages more than the state’s 6.2 ABV limit. Breweries will also be allowed to sell the higher alcohol content beer they manufacture under the new law.

The legislation redefining beer actually passed in 2014 and was signed by the governor in May of that year.

Tennessee high school students will now be required to take a U.S. civics test before graduation, according to new legislation.

Per this new law, high school students will be required to take a U.S. civics test during their high school career. This test is to be prepared by the local education agency (LEA) and is to be composed of 25 to 50 questions from the 100 questions making up the civics test administered by the U.S. citizenship and immigration services to those seeking to become naturalized citizens.

Under the law, the LEA may prepare multiple versions of the test for use in different school and at different times. Students may be allowed to take the test as many times as necessary to pass, with a passing defined as the students answering at least 70 percent of the questions correctly.

The law as originally presented was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in 2015 and it was initially set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2016. However, the legislation has undergone several amendments since it was originally proposed.

Initially, the test was to be composed of 100 questions and its passage would have been a requirement for graduation. Passage of the test was originally defined as a student answering 60 percent of questions correctly.

With the amendments, passage of the test will not be required for a student to graduate. A student with an individualized education program under which the civics test is determined to be “an inappropriate requirement for the student” shall not be required to take the test, according to the law.

If all students in a senior class required to take the civics test and receiving a regular diploma pass the test, that school will be recognized on the  Department of Education’s website as a “United States Civics All-Star School” for that school year.

Among other new state laws that took effect on Jan. 1 is eliminating the requirement that a person’s driver license be suspended for an additional period if he or she is convicted of driving on a suspended or revoked license.

Under previous law, those convicted of driving on a suspended license were subject to an extension of the original suspension period. Per the new law, the court will be given to issue a restricted driver license contingent on the person with a suspended or revoked license participating in a payment plan for fines and costs.

More stringent sentencing is now in place for those who rob pharmacies in order to obtain controlled substances. A new law creates a new sentencing factor for those who commit the offenses of robbery, aggravated robbery or especially aggravated robbery on the premises of a licensed pharmacy in order to obtain, sell, give or exchange a controlled substance, controlled substance analogue or other illegal drug.

New federal rules set for livestock

From Staff Reports

With the coming of the new year, livestock producers will have new federal rules to follow when feeding their animals.

Beginning Jan. 1, a licensed veterinarian must approve and supervise use of certain medications in livestock feed.

“Antibiotics are vitally important for fighting illness and maintaining livestock health,” state veterinarian Dr. Charles Hatcher said. “However, we must make sure that drugs don’t develop resistance. These new rules will move us toward the elimination of antibiotic use for production purposes, while still allowing producers to use prescribed antibiotics to treat and control disease.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require producers to have a veterinary feed directive (VFD) in order to feed certain antimicrobial drugs. Before a producer can obtain a VFD, their licensed vet of record must examine and diagnose the livestock in question. Producers must then provide the VFD to their feed manufacturer or supplier. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture routinely inspects feed manufacturers. Any mills that mix antimicrobials into livestock feed will be required to show proof of the VFD during inspection. Extra-label use of a VFD drug in an animal feed for weight gain or feed efficiency is prohibited.

More information is available at www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/DevelopmentApprovalProcess/ucm071807.htm.

Pending home sales 23 percent higher than November 2015

From Staff Reports

A gauge for residential home sales continued to show some seasonal slowing in November. At the same time, it was 23 percent higher than new pending sales for November last year.

The Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors reports there were 562 new pending sales in the 11-county region monitored by NETAR’s Trends report in November, down from 641 in October and up from 457 November last year.

New pending sales include accepted offers on single-family, townhome and condominium properties in Carter, Greene, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Washington and Unicoi counties in Northeast Tennessee and Washington, Lee, Scott and Wise counties in Southwest Virginia. Sales typically close in 45 days to two months after signing.

The National Association of Realtors said last week that its pending sales index fell 2.5 percent from October. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economists, blamed the decline on a recent jump in mortgage rates combined with rising prices and a tight inventory.

NETAR President Marsha Stowell said the local market has 5.6 months of inventory is November. That’s the number of months it would take to exhaust active listing at the current sales rate.

“New listing were 6 percent better than November last year following two months of decline,” she added. The total active listings for November was down 21 percent from last year. “This time of the year we typically see about 4,000 active listings.”

In November, there were a little over 3,000 active listing in the region.

Stowell said the mortgage rate increases have not blunted demand all that much.

November’s average listing price was $234,000 compared to $210,000 November last year. The average sales price as a percentage of the average listing price in November was 95 percent, down from 96 percent in September and October.

Carter Railroad Museum features region’s best

Just one of the many exhibits on display at the Carter Railroad Museum. (Contributed photo)

Just one of the many exhibits on display at the Carter Railroad Museum. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

On Saturday, Dec. 31, East Tennessee State University’s George L. Carter Railroad Museum’s monthly Heritage Day will showcase both Appalachia’s biggest steam engines and most colorful diesels. The exhibit is titled “Precision Transportation: Norfolk & Western and Norfolk Southern Glory.”

In 2012, Norfolk Southern railroad, once the Norfolk and Western, devoted a group of new locomotives to its corporate past. These engines were painted in historically-derived schemes similar to the ones featured on the predecessor lines, like the Interstate, Southern, Wabash and Central of Georgia.

The model trains running at the museum will include steam engines from the past and the Heritage-style modern diesels.

“The museum has honored this company, which still runs trains through downtown Johnson City, since the start of the Heritage Days program,” noted event coordinator Geoff Stunkard. “This was a great way to bring them to the forefront and should be a fun activity as New Year’s Eve entertainment for the family.”

The George L. Carter Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and members of the Mountain Empire Model Railroaders (MEMRR) club are developing the program on the club’s large 24×44 1:87 HO scale layout, one of four model lines that are housed in the museum. 

The Carter Railroad Museum is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are welcomed. The museum can be identified by a flashing railroad crossing signal at the back entrance to the Campus Center Building. Visitors should enter ETSU’s campus from State of Franklin Road onto Jack Vest Drive and continue east to 176 Ross Drive, adjacent to the flashing RR crossing sign.

To learn more about the museum, visit http://johnsonsdepot.com/glcarter/cartermuseum. Visit www.memrr.org to learn more about MEMRR, which helps demonstrate and maintain the model layouts, museum exhibits and other projects.

For more information about Heritage Day, contact Dr. Fred Alsop, museum director, at 439-6838 or alsopf@etsu.edu.  For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 439-8346.

United Way campaign exceeds fundraising goal

Lee Brown, Unicoi County United Way president, reports on campaign success. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

Lee Brown, Unicoi County United Way president, reports on campaign success. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

By Brad Hicks

Mission accomplished.

Unicoi County United Way President Lee Brown announced during Thursday’s United Way Victory Luncheon held at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center that the local United Way had not only met, but surpassed its loftier fundraising goal for its 2017 campaign.

The Unicoi County United Way has received donations and pledges totaling $139,066 for its 2017 fundraising campaign, Brown said. This is well above the $120,000 goal the organization had set for the campaign.

“Each year, the community rises to the occasion and, again, produces a successful United Way campaign,” Brown said. “This year is no different.”

On Oct. 18, the Unicoi County United Way kicked off its 2017 fundraising campaign. The $120,000 goal set for the campaign is up from the $105,000 goal the organization set for its 2016 campaign.

Last year was a record-setting year for Unicoi County United Way, as the organization raised nearly $148,000 during its 2016 campaign. This amount – the most ever raised during an annual campaign – prompted the local United Way Board to increase the goal for the 2017 campaign.

“Our board made a big leap of faith this year in raising our campaign goal from $105,000 to $120,000,” Brown said. “Typically, we’ve been a very conservative board and never made a jump quite of that nature. But we felt confident that our community would once again rise to the occasion and produce great results.”

The majority of the funding raised during the 2017 campaign -– $116,820 – will be provided to local nonprofit organizations to help them better serve the citizens of Unicoi County. Those set to receive this funding are:

• Children’s Advocacy Center of the First Judicial District – $2,000

• Change is Possible (CHIPS) Family Violence Shelter – $5,000

• Clinchfield Senior Adult Center – $25,000

• Unicoi County Public Library – $12,500

• Col. J.F. Toney Memorial Library – $5,000

• Contact Ministries, Inc. – $4,000

• Erwin Little League – $3,000

• Monroe Foundation – $2,500

• Second Harvest Food Bank – $5,000

• Sequoyah Council of Boy Scouts of America – $2,000

• Tennessee Rehabilitation Center – $5,000

• Unicoi County 4-H Club – $3,320

• Unicoi County Family YMCA – $12,000

• Unicoi County Health Department – $1,500

• Unicoi County Literacy Program – $2,000

• Unicoi County Shoe Fund – $5,000

• Unicoi County Student Backpack Program – $10,000

• Unicoi County Student Dental Program – $3,000

• Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) – $4,000

• Habitat for Humanity of Unicoi County – $5,000

David Erickson, who serves on the Unicoi County United Way Board, also presented $17,500 in additional funding. Erickson said some years, the Unicoi County United Way is able to provide additional organizations and projects with contingency fund appropriations.

“We have agencies that we help on a regular basis, but there are agencies that come to us with special requests throughout the year,” Erickson said. “So when there are funds available, it’s always good to be able to help those organizations, and this is one of those years we can do that.”

Those organizations receiving contingency fund appropriations were the Unicoi County Little League, which received an additional $12,000 to help complete a fencing project; the Erwin Kiwanis Foundation, which received $4,000 to support its annual Christmas Shopping Tour; and the Imagination Library, which received $1,500.

Brown said remaining funding from the 2017 campaign will be put toward upcoming projects and programs.

Erickson and Brown also recognized the Unicoi County United Way’s campaign partners. Those recognized were NN, Inc., Regal Beloit/Morrill Motors, Specialty Tires, Impact Plastics, Unicoi County Memorial Hospital, Unicoi County Schools, Unicoi County Gas Utility District, Nuclear Fuel Services, United Steel Workers and Erwin Utilities.

Brown also expressed his appreciation to all who had made contributions during the Unicoi County United Way’s 2017 campaign. He said another successful year would not have been possible without the community’s direct support.

“Thank you to each and every one that has had a part in raising funds or just making your own personal contribution,” Brown said.

Brown concluded Thursday’s Victory Luncheon by quoting missionary Amy Carmichael, who once said, ‘You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.’

“Our community generosity displays what great love of community that we have,” Brown said. “It’s something that I don’t think you find everywhere else.”

State urges Tennesseans to heat homes safely

From Staff Reports

The Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) reminds Tennesseans to keep safety in mind as they heat their homes during the winter season. Residents are urged to use extra caution with the use of alternate heat sources, such as portable heaters.

“We cannot stress enough the importance of following safety precautions when heating your home during the colder months,” said Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Julie Mix McPeak. “Employing just a few basic steps this winter can help ensure that your family is kept as safe as they are warm.”

Heating equipment is a major cause of home fire devastation. According to State Fire Marshal’s Office data, from 2011-2015, Tennessee fire departments responded to 2,572 home structure fires that involved heating equipment. These fires resulted in 53 fatalities. Heating equipment fires accounted for 8 percent of all reported home fires and 13 percent of all home fire deaths during that time period.

Some simple precautions can prevent most heating-related fires from happening:

• Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.

• Never use your oven to heat your home.

• Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.

• Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.

• Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.

• Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.

• Burn only dry, seasoned wood in fireplaces and woodstoves. Never burn garbage or use flammable liquids to start a fire.

• Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.

• If the pilot light of your gas heater goes out, allow 5 minutes or more for the gas to go away before trying to relight the pilot. Follow manufacturer’s instructions when relighting the pilot. Do not allow gas to accumulate, and light the match before you turn on the gas to the pilot to avoid risk of flashback.

Don’t forget to install smoke alarms on every level of your home and test them monthly. Develop and practice a home fire escape plan with everyone in your home. The plan should include two ways out of every room and a designated meeting place outside.

Tennesseans in need of a smoke alarm can utilize the SFMO’s online alarm form to request a free installation.

Official: Rain ‘may not signal end of the fires’

By Brad Hicks

Rain is in the forecast, but the wet weather may not quell the threat of forest fires within the Cherokee National Forest.

“I don’t want to minimize the fact that this rain is really good news, it’s just that it may not – and it would be nice if it did – but it may not signal the end of the fires,” said Peter Frenzen, public information officer with the U.S. Forest Service. “That will just depend on what lands where.”

According to the National Weather Service, there is a 100 percent chance of showers today in Unicoi County, with a 50 percent chance this evening. There is also a chance of local showers forecast for both Saturday and Sunday.

Frenzen said about an inch of precipitation is predicted to fall throughout the northern portion of the Cherokee National Forest with the rain event occurring over the next day or so. But he said the impact this rainfall could have on dry conditions depends on just how much rain actually falls and the area receiving it.

According to a release from the Forest Service, the rainfall total from midnight Tuesday to late Tuesday morning for the Unaka Ranger District was 0.74 inches, and for the Watauga Ranger District was 0.82 inches forecasted to occur Tuesday afternoon.

“Fire officials are looking forward to more forecast rain through the end of week but, will wait and see how much actually falls and on how wide of an area,” the release states.   

Due to recent dry conditions, the Cherokee National Forest Watauga Ranger District went on “severity” in mid-October in anticipation of wildfires. Along with extended hours for Forest Service personnel responsible for monitoring potential and ongoing wildfire situations, the severity designation also leads to Forest Service districts receiving additional resources, such as out-of-state fire crews.

Frenzen said due to the recent dry conditions, a wildfire’s fuel – particularly the leaves, grass and wood found throughout a forested area – has gotten down to a “kiln-dried lumber” state, meaning it is even more susceptible to burning. Frenzen said a sustained period of rain is needed to dampen the natural fire fuel. He added even if the area receives “a good shot of rain” over the next few days, wood may quickly dry out, meaning the Cherokee National Forest would thrust back into a fire season once the rain passes.

In response to the dry conditions, the U.S. Forest Service earlier this month issued a fire ban for the Cherokee National Forest.

“The U.S. Forest Service is implementing a TOTAL FIRE BAN for the Cherokee National Forest in east Tennessee due to the extremely dry conditions, very high fire danger, and little chance of rain in the immediate forecast,” a notice issued by the Forest Service states.

The ban restricts the building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, charcoal or stove fire inside or outside developed recreation sites, and it restricts smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, or developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material.

“The total fire ban was necessary because of current conditions and the potential for wild fire,” Cherokee National Forest Supervisor JaSal Morris stated. “I want to remind national forest visitors that this ban applies to all areas of the Cherokee National Forest, including developed recreation areas. Your understanding and cooperation is appreciated.”

Days after the Forest Service issued this ban, Gov. Bill Haslam issued one of his own. Haslam declared a regional ban on burning in 51 counties in response to the ongoing drought and wildfires throughout middle and east Tennessee. Unicoi County is among the counties listed.

“Effective immediately, residents in counties covered by the regional ban are not permitted to conduct any open-air burning,” a release announcing Haslam’s declaration states. “The ban includes campfires, and burning of brush, vegetation, household waste or construction debris.”

This ban will remain in effect until Dec. 15.

Frenzen said the fire ban for the Cherokee National Forest remains in effect. Depending on the amount of rain the area receives and how long it fell, both Forest Service and county officials will reassess the total fire ban.

“We’ll be watching how much rain falls where, and then looking at how that affects the fire severity situation, fire danger situation, and the Forest Service and the counties, as well, and will reassess as that situation changes,” Frenzen said.

But Frenzen urged citizens to continue to heed the fire and burn bans. Even with the rain, he said, the threat of fire will remain present.

“It appears the long-term outlook for this region is dryer than normal, so this rain event will certainly bring some relief, kind of like a pause in things, but it’s likely that eventually that will dry out again,” Frenzen said. “How soon that is depends on how many of these shower events you get and when dry air comes again to start drying it out again. But the feeling is that, at least in the long term, it’s not over.”

And the smoke that has recently descended upon Unicoi County may not be over.

Wildfires continue to burn throughout the region, including in western North Carolina and Gatlinburg. Unicoi County has seen and felt the effects of these fires. Smoke from multiple wildfires burning just across the state line in western North Carolina blanketed the county on Nov. 8.

Heavy smoke was again prevalent throughout the county on Nov. 23. Frenzen said that smoke was the result of wind coming up from the south, pushing smoke from fires burning in North Carolina and Georgia into the area. On both Nov. 8 and Nov. 23, the atmosphere was stable, Frenzen said, and which, along with a layer of cooler air, causes the smoke to be “capped” in the valley, leaving it with no place to go.

When the wind shifted to come out of the north and west, it pushed the settled smoke out of the area, Frenzen said. Winds are again coming up from the south but the atmosphere has changed, and it is now classified as unstable, Frenzen said, meaning there is a greater possibility for thunderstorms and strong winds. This may lead to smoke blowing through Unicoi County rather than lingering.

“So we may get smoke just kind of moving through like on a big conveyor belt,” Frenzen said.

And because wind can cause even the smallest of fires to spread quickly, officials will continue to monitor it.

“All eyes right now are on the wind,” Frenzen said. “That seems to be the big concern.”

Smoke in the region has led the National Weather Service to recently issue air quality alerts for the area.

Frenzen also offered some tips for those driving through heavy smoke. He said drivers should slow down and utilize their vehicle’s headlights. He said if visibility is greatly impacted by the smoke, drivers should pull over and activate their hazard lights.

Community invited to adopt children from ‘Tree of Hope’

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County Clerk’s office is hosting its annual Tree of Hope program this Christmas season. The tree benefits children across the county, according to County Clerk Mitzi Bowen.

Children in need have been added to the tree and people are encouraged to stop by the clerk’s office and pick one of the ornaments off of the tree.

“This will be our 11th year sponsoring the Tree of Hope,” Bowen said. “We realize that everyone has difficult times in their lives and this is our way of helping them. It could be your neighbor, the person you sit by in church or maybe your best friend or family.”

Bowen’s office adopts out all of the children at Christmas time and Bowen said that the program has grown so much that program is now able to provide food boxes for each family.

“It’s unreal how much our little county will give,” said Bowen.

Each ornament has a particular child’s needs. People then go shop for the child and return the presents to the office to be presented to the child on Dec. 17. On each ornament pertaining to each child, it will have sizes for coats, shoes, pants and a toy that child likes.

The deadline to have all of the packages into the clerk’s office is the week of Dec 12. Pick up day for the families is Dec. 17. Donations can be contributed for the tree any time before then and may be taken to the county clerk’s office.

“I want to thank all of those who have donated this year,” said Bowen. “It’s amazing how heartwarming this little county is. So come one, come all, and adopt a child from the Tree of Hope and let’s make a lot of children’s Christmases magical this year.”

Department of Agriculture: Shop for farm goods this Small Biz Saturday

From Staff Reports

Small Business Saturday is November 26 and in Tennessee, many of those businesses focus on products found on the farm.

A year-round interest in local products means plenty of options for holiday gifts from the farm. When you purchase from a farmer, you create an economic ripple that encourages and strengthens rural communities.

Gift baskets with artisan cheeses, meats, sauces and jellies, local wines, handmade chocolates and other festivity-friendly foods are easy to find. Baskets are a great choice for family, friends who like to entertain and business associates.

Goat’s milk, honey and beeswax-based beauty products, like soaps, lotions and balms are readily available at farmers markets and retail stores that specialize in artisan farm offerings.

Some gifts need to be really special. Farmers like Karl and Jan Heinrich of Long Hollow Suri Alpacas have increased production on their farm to meet demand for items that are local and luxurious. The Heinrichs, who process the alpaca wool right on their Gallatin farm, take their business from the field to the fashion runways of New York. Shoppers in their farm store can choose gifts to warm the heart and hands, ranging from cozy gloves and wraps to beautiful yarns and couture dresses.

Find farm-related businesses across the state through the Taste of Tennessee Online Store at www.PickTnProducts.org. Shoppers can click on links and connect to a business or producer site. The products are then purchased directly from the producer.

Pick Tennessee Products is the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s program to connect consumers to farms, farmers and farm products. Now in its 30th year, Pick Tennessee lists more than 2,500 Tennessee farmers and farm direct businesses with almost 10,000 products.

State Fire Marshal: Cook safely this Thanksgiving season

From Staff Reports

As families prepare to gather for Thanksgiving Day feasts this Thursday, November 24, the State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) urges Tennesseans to avoid careless cooking habits that can lead to fires.

Cooking safety is a key component to the SFMO’s recently launched holiday safety campaign, developed in response to an annual increase of home fires during the holiday season.

“The excitement of a Thanksgiving get-together can lead to distractions for holiday cooks,” said State Fire Marshal and Commerce & Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “We encourage Tennesseans to cook with care this Thanksgiving to avoid a devastating fire. Pay attention in the kitchen, and if using a turkey fryer, take all necessary safety precautions to protect yourself, your family, and your property.”

National and state statistics show Thanksgiving is the leading day for home fires involving cooking equipment. An estimated 2,000 Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings are reported to U.S. fire departments each year according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Here in the Volunteer State, 29 percent of reported home structure fires in 2015 involved cooking equipment. Those 2,077 fires resulted in seven fatalities, 44 civilian injuries, and over $11 million of direct property damage according to the Tennessee Fire Incident Reporting System.

The SFMO offers these safety tips as a reminder to cook smart this year:

  • Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, boiling, grilling or broiling. If you have to leave the room, even for a moment, turn off the burner.
  • Use a kitchen timer when boiling, simmering, baking, or roasting to remind yourself that you are cooking.
  • Use caution with turkey fryers. Oil-less models are available that use infrared heat, rather than oil, to cook the turkey.
  • Never leave a turkey fryer unattended. Most fryer units do not have thermostat controls. If you do not watch the fryer carefully, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire.
  • Never let children or pets near the fryer, even if it is not in use. The oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot for hours after use.
  • To prevent spillover, do not overfill the fryer.
  • Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts when touching pot or lid handles. If possible, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from oil splatter.
  • Make sure the turkey is thawed and dry before cooking. Ice or water that mixes into the hot oil can cause flare-ups. The National Turkey Foundation recommends thawing the turkey in the refrigerator approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of weight.
  • Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease or oil fire. If the fire is manageable, use your all-purpose fire extinguisher. If the fire increases, immediately call the fire department by dialing 911.

For more information on making your home fire-safe, download and print the State Fire Marshal’s home fire safety checklist. Tennessee residents can request a free smoke alarm by visiting www.tn.gov/fire.

TDOT halts lane closures on Tennessee highways during Thanksgiving holiday

From Staff Reports

Thanksgiving travelers will not be delayed by construction on Tennessee roads during this busy travel holiday, according to a press release from the state. TDOT will halt all lane closure activity on interstates and state highways in anticipation of higher traffic volumes across the state. All construction related lane closures will be stopped beginning at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 23, through 6 a.m. Monday, Nov. 28. 

“Over a million travelers in Tennessee are expected to drive to their holiday destinations this year,” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. “This is the most traveled holiday of the year. Halting road work during this busy time will provide maximum capacity on our roadways and help alleviate congestion, especially during the predicted peak travel days of Wednesday and Sunday.”

While all lane closure activity will be stopped, workers may be on site in some construction zones. Long-term lane closures will also remain in place on some construction projects for motorists’ safety. Motorists are reminded to drive safely and obey the posted speeds, especially in work zones. Drivers convicted of speeding in work zones where workers are present face a fine of up to $500, plus court fees and possible increased insurance premiums.

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security and TDOT are partnering with law enforcement across the state for the I-40 Challenge, with the goal of having zero fatalities on the 455 miles of I-40 in Tennessee. On the peak travel days of Wednesday, Nov. 23, and Sunday, Nov. 27, the Tennessee Highway Patrol will have troopers stationed every 20 miles on I-40, along with increased law enforcement on all highways.

AAA predicts 48.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more during the Thanksgiving holiday, an increase of 1 million travelers over last year. Driving remains the most popular mode of travel for the holiday. An estimated 1,086,352 people are expected to travel by automobile in Tennessee. Nationwide, more than 89 percent of all travelers will drive to their destinations.

From your desktop or mobile device, get the latest construction activity and live streaming SmartWay traffic cameras at www.TNSmartWay.com/Traffic. Travelers can also dial 511 from any land-line or cellular phone for travel information, or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TN511 for statewide travel.

As always, drivers are reminded to use all motorist information tools wisely and Know Before You Go! by checking travel conditions before leaving for your destination.  Drivers should never tweet, text or talk on a cell phone while behind the wheel.

Chamber announces holiday events

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce will be ringing in this holiday season with a full lineup of special events.

Erwin Christmas Parade on Saturday, Nov. 26

The first holiday event on the Chamber’s calendar is the annual Erwin Christmas Parade on Saturday, Nov. 26, at 10:30 a.m.

This year’s parade, which is themed “A Magical Christmas,” will feature floats and exhibits that will help participants and attendees get into the holiday spirit. The parade will begin at the Erwin Village Shopping Center, travel down Main Avenue into downtown and end at Erwin Utilities on Love Street.

“The holiday season is a special time for making memories and celebrating traditions,” Chamber Executive Director Amanda Delp said. “The Chamber takes pride in coordinating an event that allows the community to come together in celebration of the holidays. The parade is one of our favorite events each year.”

Cline Floats will be supplying professionally designed floats again this year for local businesses to sponsor, according to Delp. These floats will travel the parade route along with various other floats, the Unicoi County High School Band, the UCHS Junior Air Force ROTC, vehicles of all sorts and the special finale, Santa and Mrs. Claus. Churches, civic organizations and individuals are encouraged to enter homemade floats in the parade.

Groups wishing to participate in the 2016 Erwin Christmas Parade should call the Chamber at 743-3000 to receive an application. 

All participants must complete an application form in order to participate in the parade, Delp said.  Applications must be received by the Chamber office by Monday, Nov. 21.

There is no entry fee for the parade. All participants operating motorized vehicles in the parade must provide a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance at the time of registration.

Annual Dinner on Thursday, Dec. 1

The 12th Annual Chamber Dinner will be held on Thursday, Dec. 1, at the Erwin National Guard Armory. Delp said this event is being sponsored by Nuclear Fuel Services and is themed “Magic Is in the Air.”

The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will include a formal dinner program and entertainment by Azure Aerial Arts.

“The evening promises to light the beginning of your holiday season with a showcase of great entertainment and food,” Delp said. This event is open to the entire community, so join us for a fabulous dinner guaranteed to satisfy your holiday appetite and a wonderful program including a magical performance by Azure.”

Delp said the event will also include a look ahead to 2017 from the Chamber, the presentation of the President’s Award and a presentation by NFS.

“We invite you to enjoy all that is truly bright and wonderful about Unicoi County,” Delp added.

A silent auction will once again be part of the evening. Guests are invited to arrive early to browse the auction items, which will include tickets for regional attractions and events, specialty baskets, business-benefit packages and much more. Doors will open at 5:45 p.m. for the silent auction.

Tickets for the event may be purchased at the Chamber office for $25 each, or you may reserve a table of 10 for $225. Reservations must be made by Monday, Nov. 28. Call the Chamber office for more information.

Erwin Tree-Lighting Ceremony on Friday, Dec. 2

Next up is the 13th Annual Erwin Tree-Lighting Ceremony on Friday, Dec. 2, at Erwin Town Hall.

“With the holiday season just around the corner, we know there is no better way to ignite the holiday spirit than to join friends and neighbors for an evening of community festivities in downtown Erwin,” said Delp.

The tree-lighting ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. with remarks by Chamber and Town of Erwin officials. Attendees will be invited to join with the community choir in singing popular Christmas carols as the tree is being lit.

Activities will then move inside Erwin Town Hall for the reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Santa will then make his appearance. Again this year, The Erwin Record will be on hand to take individual photos of children visiting with Santa.

“We are happy to capture a special memory of the holiday season for local families,” Publisher Keith Whitson said.

The first 100 children will also receive a special gift from Santa and hot chocolate will be served during the ceremony, according to Delp. 

Gingerbread House Contest Entry Deadline on Monday, Dec. 5

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau Insurance have teamed up for the 3rd Annual Gingerbread House Contest during the holiday season.

There is no fee to enter the contest. All entries must be dropped off at the Chamber of Commerce office by 5 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 5. Winners will be announced on Saturday, Dec. 10. The entries will be taken to Farm Bureau following the judging on Dec. 10 and will remain on display there until Jan. 2, Delp said.

This year’s theme is “A Magical Christmas” and all materials used in building the gingerbread house, including decorative items, must be edible (except for the base).

“Elaborate or simple, big or small, nothing gets you in the holiday spirit like building and designing your very own gingerbread house,” Delp said. “This is the perfect opportunity to start a new tradition and it’s never too early to begin working on this awesome event. Also remember that your holiday masterpiece doesn’t have to be a house; it can be a barn, church, school or other structure. Let your creative imagination take hold.”

Three divisions will be featured this year: group entry, adult and youth (ages 12 and under). There will be $100 in prize money awarded in each of the three divisions.

“Farm Bureau Insurance was eager to jump on board with sponsoring this community event when the idea was discussed a couple of years ago,” said Mark Peterson, agency manager with Farm Bureau. “We have been pleased with the participation and believe this can be an event that continues to grow each year. It’s a great way to get into the holiday spirit and have some fun being creative.”

Delp said the Chamber is “excited” to partner with Farm Bureau for the contest.

“As a devoted longtime community steward, Farm Bureau makes community events like this possible,” she added.

Breakfast With Santa on Saturday, Dec. 10

The Chamber invites children of all ages to a “Breakfast With Santa” on Saturday, Dec. 10, from 9 to 11 a.m. at The Bramble, 206 Gay St., Erwin.

Delp said a pancake breakfast will be served. There will also be dancing with the elves, face painting, music and photos with Santa by The Erwin Record.

Tickets are now on sale at the Chamber office. Children 6 and under are $5; all other tickets are $8.

“Seating is limited, so purchase your ticket today to make sure you enjoy this new holiday tradition,” Delp said. “Tickets must be purchased in advance.”

For more information about these events, call the Chamber at 743-3000.

MSHA: New services coming to county hospital

By Keeli Parkey

Two new services are now being offered at Unicoi County Memorial Hospital.

According to a press release issued by Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), the health system that owns and operates the Erwin facility, lung cancer screening and home sleep testing are now available.

“One of our goals at Unicoi County Memorial Hospital is to continually find ways to better serve our patients and our community with the services we offer,” UCMH Administrator Eric Carroll said. “Both the lung cancer screening and the home sleep tests are great examples of that.”

MSHA described the low-dose CT lung cancer screening as “simple” and “painless.” This method is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and uses a CT machine to create images of the lungs. It is covered by most insurance providers, according to the press release.

“Early detection is so important with lung cancer,” Carroll said. “Since November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a great time to remind people to be proactive. We’re really glad we can offer this service because it’s something that can save lives. A lot of credit goes to our radiology manager, Michael Slemp, and his team for bringing this service to the community.”

According to the health system, the leading cause of death among adults is lung cancer. Of those diagnosed, 25 percent will not have symptoms. MSHA called early detection “critical for the chance at successful treatment.” There is a reported 54 percent, five-year survival rate for lung cancer when the disease remains in the lungs.

“However, only 15 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage,” the press release stated.

The CDC advises individuals who currently smoke, have smoked heavily in the past, smoked during the past 15 years and are in the 55- to 77-year-old age range to get screened for lung cancer.

MSHA also reported that the following are risk factors for lung cancer: Cigarette, cigar or tobacco use; secondhand smoke; radon; asbestos; air or environmental pollution; radiation therapy to the chest; arsenic in drinking water; and family or personal history of lung cancer.

For more information about the CT lung screening, call 743-1222.

• • •

The Sleep Center at UCMH is now offering home sleep testing, according to MSHA.

“A home sleep test is exactly what it sounds like – a sleep test you can administer at home,” the press release said. “The test consists of a small device that a patient picks up from the hospital and then returns the next day. The home sleep test is designed to evaluate the severity of snoring and apnea, and also monitors oxygen levels during sleep.”

A physician may order the test when a patient reports issues about their sleep patterns, snoring or concerns they may have sleep apnea. Diagnosing sleep disordered breathing is the purpose of the test.

After the patient has taken the test and returned the device to UCMH, a sleep technologist and a board-certified sleep specialist will review the results. They will then send the results to the referring physician – a process that takes approximately one week.

For more information about the home sleep test, call 743-1291.

Industrial Drive repairs underway by TDOT

By Brad Hicks

A crew with Summers-Taylor installs a portable traffic signal along South Industrial Drive. Construction on the roadway will continue throughout the next several months. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

A crew with Summers-Taylor installs a portable traffic signal along South Industrial Drive. Construction on the roadway will continue throughout the next several months. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

A long-planned project to rehabilitate the road that serves several local industries is now underway in Erwin.

Crews are working to repair South Industrial Drive, which serves the town’s industrial park. According to Mark Nagi, Region 1 community relations officer for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the project consists of the removal of the roadway’s old asphalt courses and stone base course and the installation of a new stone base course and new asphalt courses.

The under-construction project was awarded for approximately $1,011,000, and the Elizabethton-based Summers-Taylor Inc. is the prime contractor. The project, which is being overseen by TDOT, is 100 percent funded by the state, Nagi said.

Work on the resurfacing project recently began. Around two weeks ago, erosion and sedimentation control was installed at the site. Early last week, crews began milling along South Industrial Drive.

“They’ve got the traffic control stuff out and they’ve got the milling machine,” said Erwin Public Works Director Riki Forney. “They’ve started milling the first phase of it.”

Nagi said the South Industrial Drive resurfacing is a phased project in which the contractor will close one lane at a time and have travel in the open lane controlled by portable traffic signals. The project is made up of two phases with two “parts” to each phase, one for each lane.

“That way, they didn’t have to do an entire shutdown on the road and, that way, they could keep traffic flowing to make sure those businesses have a way to get their traffic coming in and out of it,” Forney said of the phases.

Forney said traffic along South Industrial Drive – particularly heavy truck traffic – has taken its toll on the road over the years. He said the repair project will allow the road to better accommodate the traffic going to and from businesses in the industrial park.

“There’s a lot of industrial traffic, a lot of truck traffic and, unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough substrate right there to handle that style of traffic,” Forney said.

Forney also previously said the project will widen the road and create a shoulder for better two-way traffic.

Due to the close proximity of South Industrial Drive to a section of the Erwin Linear Trail, a portion of the trail will be closed for the duration of the work.

“We’ve blocked off the trail to create a safer environment, so we’re just asking our folks don’t use that section of the Linear Trail until it’s completed,” Forney said.

Nagi also said motorists traveling on South Industrial Drive should pay attention to the construction signage and portable traffic signals.

The length of South Industrial Drive under repair is 0.813 miles, and the project has a completion date of May 31, 2017, according to Nagi. Forney said the contractor is hopeful the project can be completed sooner.

The project has been in the works for some time. In the fall of 2011, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved an agreement with TDOT for the South Industrial Drive repair project. Plans and environmental studies were subsequently completed.

“We are very fortunate and we’re very happy that TDOT has partnered with us on this,” Forney said. “It’s going to make the road just easier to maintain and it’s going to be a lot safer, and it’s going to help all those businesses down there. So we’re excited about it.”

Comptroller: Unicoi County receives first clean audit of fiscal year

From Staff Reports

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office just announced that Unicoi County has received a clean audit report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 – the first in the state during the office’s annual review of the state’s county governments.

“This significant achievement means the county’s audit report was completed without any findings,” a press release from the office said. “Very few counties can claim to have an audit report without a finding indicating weaknesses or deficiencies in government operations.”

Also according to the press release, the audit showed that the county has “a strong system that allows for accurate financial reporting and clear checks and balances that help protect taxpayer money.”

“A clean audit report is a strong indicator of good government,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “Unicoi County can now claim to have one of the strongest county governments in Tennessee. I’d like to congratulate county leaders and employees for this accomplishment.”

To view Unicoi County’s full audit, visit http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/la/.

Early voting in county sets new record

By Brad Hicks

Much is up for grabs on both the national and local levels in the Nov. 8 presidential and municipal elections, and voters across Unicoi County have already turned out in droves to ensure their voice is counted.

As of Monday, afternoon, nearly 3,800 Unicoi Countians had cast ballots during the early voting period, according to Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey.

Bailey added that this is ahead of the number who had voted in the past few presidential elections at this point of early voting.

“It has been a record turnout so far,” Bailey said.

The number of early voting participants for this presidential and municipal election represents more than 30 percent of the county’s registered voters, of which Bailey said there are approximately 11,100.

At this same point in the 2012 presidential and municipal election, around 3,400 Unicoi Countians had cast ballots during early voting. In 2008, that number was less than 3,000.

“So we’re doing quite a bit more than we had at this point four and eight years ago,” Bailey said.

The early voting period ends Thursday, Nov. 3. Those wishing to vote early may do so at the Unicoi County Election Commission office both Wednesday, Nov. 2, and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Voters in the towns of Erwin and Unicoi will decide the office of mayor for their respective municipality along with several seats on their town’s governing body. These same voters will also decide whether wine should be sold in grocery stores within their limits.

In Erwin, incumbent Mayor Doris Hensley is unopposed in her bid for reelection.

Four candidates are vying for two open seats on the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Current Vice-Mayor Gary Edwards and incumbent Alderwoman Sue Jean Wilson are seeking reelection. Also vying for spots on the board are Rob Martin and Wayne Morris.

In the Town of Unicoi, longtime Mayor Johnny Lynch will face opposition from current Alderwoman Kathy Bullen for the office of mayor.

Three seats on the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen will also be decided by voters residing within the the town’s limits.

Two candidates are vying to fill the unexpired term of former alderman Phillip Hensley, who resigned from the board earlier this year. Those looking to fill the two years remaining on the term are Roger Cooper and Billy Harkins Jr.

Four candidates are looking to fill two four-year seats on the Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Current Vice-Mayor Doug Hopson and incumbent Alderman Jeff Linville are seeking reelection. Their opponents for the seats will be current Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley and Jonathan Clint Miller.

Seats on both the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen are staggered, meaning the seats not up for grabs on Nov. 8 will be decided in the 2018 municipal election.

Referendums for voters residing in Erwin and the Town of Unicoi to permit the sale of wine in retail food stores located within the limits of each respective municipality will also appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Petitions previously disseminated in each municipality received the required number of valid signatures ahead of the August deadline for the referendums to appear on the ballot.

State lawmakers in 2014 approved a law permitting the sale of wine in Tennessee’s grocery stores. The law went into effect on July 1. But, while the law legalized the sale, it was left up to each county or city to have a local option election authorizing the sale of wine in retail food stores.

Oh, and that whole Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton thing will also be decided on Nov. 8.

For more information on the Nov. 8 election or early voting, contact the Unicoi County Election Commission office at 743-6521.

Bear Wallow Flats bridge repairs complete

The Unicoi County Highway Department recently repaired a small bridge in the Bear Wallow Flats area. The metal bridge was replaced with prefabricated concrete blocks. (Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

The Unicoi County Highway Department recently repaired a small bridge in the Bear Wallow Flats area. The metal bridge was replaced with prefabricated concrete blocks. (Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

By Brad Hicks

A crew from the Unicoi County Highway Department recently completed the replacement of a bridge damaged by time and the elements.

The Highway Department began and finished repairs to the bridge in the Bear Wallow Flats area, located off Rock Creek Road, on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

Unicoi County Superintendent of Roads Terry Haynes said the original metal bridge, constructed in 1977, was beginning to deteriorate due to its age and road salt finding its way onto the structure.

The metal was removed and replaced with prefabricated concrete Permatile blocks.

“This is a lifetime fix,” Haynes said. “It’ll never have to be done any more.”

The Unicoi County Commission in September authorized the Highway Department to proceed with the bridge replacement project. The department did not ask the Commission for any new money for the undertaking, as funding for the bridge repair will come from the Highway Department’s reserves.

Haynes said the concrete is Tennessee Department of Transportation-certified and is less costly than repairing the bridge with metal would have been.

“The metal on this bridge would cost you about $18,000 to $19,000, and that’s not counting the manpower putting it down. So I did everything today for about, probably, $26,000.”

The use of Highway Department employees also cut down on the costs, Haynes said. He said the project would have cost the county approximately $60,000 had it been contracted out.

And even though the structure is now repaired and drivable, the Highway Department’s work on the Bear Wallow Flats bridge is not done just yet.

“We’ll let it sit for like two or three weeks, settle down, and we’ll come back in here and we’ll resurface it all the way to the highway,” Haynes said.

Tennessee Highway Patrol, Highway Safety Office announce Halloween enforcement, safety tips

From Staff Reports

The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) and Tennessee Highway Safety Office (THSO) are partnering together for a safe Halloween.  The THP will plan for increased visibility and enforcement efforts on Halloween to ensure a safe and happy holiday for all Tennesseans.

There were four people killed on Halloween night per the Tennessee’s Integrated Traffic Analysis Network (TITAN) during the 2013-2015 time periods.  Two of the four fatal crashes involved drunk drivers.

“There is typically a dramatic increase in pedestrian traffic on Halloween. It is important for us to remind motorists to slow down and watch for children on all roadways. This is a time of good family fun. However, children, parents and motorists must remember that safety comes first,” Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner David Purkey said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 43 percent of all people killed in motor vehicle crashes on Halloween night (6 p.m. October 315:59 a.m. November 1) from 2009 to 2013 were in crashes involving a drunk driver. On Halloween Night alone, 119 people lost their lives over that same period.

As of October 27, there have been 80 pedestrian fatalities in Tennessee in 2016. That’s four more pedestrian deaths compared to this same time last year. Children out trick-or-treating and the parents accompanying them are at increased risk of injury during the Halloween weekend.

It is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher. In 2015, Tennessee averaged 25.9% Alcohol-Impaired Driving fatalities.  THP arrested 6,421 impaired drivers.  Currently in 2016, the THP has arrested 6,647 impaired drivers.  For Checkpoint information visit our website, https://www.tn.gov/safety/article/checkpoints.

“We will also be conducting increased patrols and using enforcement techniques to look for aggressive or impaired drivers,” THP Colonel Tracy Trott said.  “Partygoers should plan ahead, designate a sober driver.  Don’t make the poor decision to get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking.  Our goal is to keep children safe from those who blatantly disobey the law this Halloween,” he added.

Halloween safety tips for parents, children and motorists are listed below.

Tips for Motorists

  • Slow down. Watch for children walking on roads, medians and curbs.
  • Be extra alert when pulling in and out of driveways.
  • Be especially alert for children darting out from between parked vehicles and from behind bushes and shrubs. They’re excited and may not be paying attention.
  • Do not pass other vehicles that have stopped in the roadway.  They could be dropping off children.
  • If you are driving to a Halloween party, put your mask on after you park the car.
  • Never drink and drive – tonight or any night. If you are partying, designate a driver.

Tips for Parents

  • Adults should accompany children at all times and supervise their “trick or treat” activities.
  • Teach children to “stop, look left-right-left, and listen” before they cross the street.
  • Instruct children to stay on sidewalks and to cross only at corners or crosswalks.
  • Use a flashlight and wear retro-reflective strips or patches on your clothing or costume to be more visible to motorists.
  • Be certain that the mask does not obstruct vision or hearing.
  • Ensure that costumes do not impede walking or driving ability.

Tips for Pedestrians (children and adults)

  • Require children to wear retro-reflective materials and carry a flashlight at dawn and dusk and in other low-light situations, such as rainy or foggy weather.
  • Before crossing a street, stop at the curb or edge of the road and look left, right and left again to be sure no cars are coming. Continue to check for traffic while on the street.
  • Walk – never run – from house to house or across the road.
  • Cross the street only at intersections and crosswalks.
  • When crossing at an intersection with a traffic light, be sure to watch for turning cars. Obey all pedestrian signals.
  • Walk on sidewalks whenever possible. If there are no sidewalks, walk on the left side of the street facing traffic.

State: Dry fall increases wildfire risks

From Staff Reports

It’s dry in Tennessee and with little or no rain in the state’s weather forecast, state officials are asking everyone to take extra precaution to prevent outdoor fires from getting out of control.

“Drought and dry conditions have contributed to 837 wildfires burning 20,000 acres in Tennessee so far this year,” said Director Patrick Sheehan, of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA). “We are asking everyone spending any time outdoors this season to be aware of the fire risk and to take extra care with potential sources of fire ignition.  This will help us avoid needless and potentially deadly wildfires.”    

The State Fire Marshal’s Office, a division of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI) offers the following basic, outdoor fire safety tips:

  • Have an adult present at all times when a bonfire, chiminea, fire pit, or outdoor fireplace is burning.
  • Keep children and pets at least three feet away from open flames.
  • Dried flowers, cornstalks, crepe paper and other types of fall décor are highly flammable and should be kept a safe distance, at least three feet, from open flames and heat sources, including light bulbs and heaters.
  • Consider using battery-operated flameless candles and solar-powered patio (tiki) torches outside in place of an open flame. Flameless candles come in all colors, shapes and sizes, and are a safer alternative.
  • It is safest to use battery-operated candles or glow sticks in a jack-o’-lantern. If you use a flame candle, use extreme caution and keep them well attended at all times.
  • A grill should be placed well away from the home and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
  • If using a charcoal grill, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container.
  • Never leave a grill unattended.
  • Never park a vehicle over a pile of leaves.  The heat from the vehicle’s catalytic converter or exhaust system could ignite the leaves below.

“While the fall is a great season to spend time outside, we remind Tennesseans always to incorporate basic fire safety measures into their outdoor agenda,” said State Fire Marshal and TDCI Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry encourages the following precautions to make sure outdoor burning is handled properly:

  • Avoid burning on dry, 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 are forecast.
  • 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 won’t 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 your fire should attempt to spread.
  • If you burn in a burn barrel or other trash container, be sure it is equipped with a ½” mesh screen or metal grid to keep burning material contained.
  • Stay abreast of wildfire danger levels and heed warnings and bans on outdoor burning.
  • Be aware of where your smoke is going. Avoid burning when your smoke will be bothersome to neighbors or sensitive locations such as highways.

“Careless debris burning is a major cause of wildland fires,” said John Kirksey with the Tennessee Division of Forestry. “We want everyone to exercise extreme caution when outdoors with all potential sources of wildfire ignition, to avoid senseless and potentially deadly wildfires.”

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 secure a burning permit from the Tennessee Division of Forestry. Local jurisdictions may have other ordinances and permitting systems in place for open-air burning.

The free permit can be obtained online at www.BurnSafeTN.org or by calling a local Division of Forestry burn permit phone number, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. These phone numbers, as well fire prevention tips and other wildfire resource information, can be found at www.BurnSafeTN.org.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation strongly urges motorists to avoid throwing lit cigarettes out of their vehicles. This type of litter can quickly start grass fires that can lead to dangerous traffic situations, such as low visibility and congestion.

Tennessee State Parks is asking state park visitors to be observant with campfires in the campgrounds. Park visitors should immediately report a fire or what could be a potential fire danger to 911, and observe the following basic fire safety tips:

  • Use designated areas – Campfires in Tennessee State Parks must be contained within designated grills or fire grates.
  • Be responsible – Never leave a fire unattended, even for a minute. Smoke in a car or designated area if possible. Dispose of cigarettes in a non-flammable container. Don’t allow children and pets near the campfire and never leave them unsupervised.
  • Ensure your campfire is completely extinguished with water before leaving.
  • Play it safe – Keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby. Stack extra wood upwind and away from the fire. After lighting, do not discard the match until it is cold.

State Fire Marshal offers Halloween fire safety tips

From Staff Reports

With Halloween fast approaching, the State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) wants to remind Tennesseans to take simple safety precautions to keep this year’s Halloween festivities both fun and fire-free.

“Halloween can be an exciting time for kids and adults alike, but Tennessee revelers should pay close attention to hazards posed by candles, decorations, and costumes,” said State Fire Marshal and Commerce & Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “By taking a few basic safety measures, residents can help ensure Halloween fun doesn’t lead to fire danger.”

According to data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), decorations are the first thing to ignite in 900 reported home fires each year. Two of every five of these fires were started by a candle.

The SFMO offers the following guidelines to help the public avoid Halloween fire hazards:

  • Choose a costume without long trailing fabric. This can cause a child to trip or may touch flames in jack-o’-lanterns or other decorations.
  • If you make your own costume, use materials that won’t catch on fire easily if they come in contact with heat or flame. If your children wear masks, make sure eyeholes are large enough to allow unobstructed views.
  • Give your children flashlights or glow sticks so they can see where they are walking.
  • Keep exits clear of decorations.
  • Dried flowers, cornstalks and crepe paper are highly flammable. Keep these and other decorations away from all open flames and heat sources, including light bulbs and heaters.
  • It is safest to use a glow stick, flashlight, or battery-operated candles in a jack-o’-lantern. If you use a flame candle, use extreme caution and keep them well attended at all times.
  • When lighting candles inside jack-o-lanterns, use long fireplace matches or a long-nozzled candle lighter. Be sure to place lit pumpkins well away from anything that can burn and far enough out of the way of trick-or-treaters and such high-traffic areas as doorsteps, walkways and yards.
  • Tell children to stay away from open flames. Be sure they know how to stop, drop and roll if their clothing catches fire. (Have them practice stopping immediately, dropping to the ground, covering their faces with their hands, and rolling over and over.)
  • When attending a Halloween party, look for ways out of the home/venue and plan how you would get out in an emergency.
  • When visiting a haunted house, always be aware of your surroundings and on the lookout for safety features that can make the difference during an emergency.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office encourages Tennesseans to have working smoke alarms installed in their homes and to develop and practice a home fire escape plan with two ways out of every room and a designated outside meeting place.

Tennessee residents can request a free smoke alarm by visiting www.tn.gov/fire.