Wildfires cost TN $5M; Haslam vows to punish arsonists

Fighting Tennessee wildfires has already cost the state an estimated $5.5 million, not counting mention property damage, and Gov. Bill Haslam is vowing to go after arsonists believed responsible for setting at least half the blazes across drought-parched portions of the state, reports the Times-Free Press.

“We obviously are very concerned about fires in Tennessee, particularly the fact that it looks like the majority of them were set by arsonists,” Haslam told reporters. “I can assure you we’re going to pursue those folks with everything they can because the impact on our communities is huge.”

…U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., toured wildfire scenes in Hamilton County Monday.

(State Agriculture Commissioner Jai) Templeton and forestry officials told the governor that preliminary estimates indicate Tennessee stands to recoup at least $900,000 in federal emergency funds for money it spent on a three-fire “complex” near Soddy-Daisy in Hamilton County, Smith County in nearby Sequatchie County and East Miller Cover in Blount County. Because they have been federally designated, the federal government would pay 75 percent of costs.

Non-federally designated areas, however, are on Tennessee taxpayers’ dime with the state bringing in firefighting teams from other states. A Florida team made a huge difference in fighting the North Hamilton County fires, Templeton and other officials told the governor.

…As for what more punishments are in store for suspected arsonists, Haslam said, “I’ve actually asked that question. We’re trying to see what we can do there that we can do within the powers given us. But I would be in favor of doing it. I’ll obviously have to see what we can do.”

He said he may push tougher laws for future arsonists.

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