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Wildfire burns 1,100 acres behind base rifle range

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Arnold Air Force Base experienced the largest wildfire in its recent history Tuesday. What started out as a couple of hundred acres, turned into more than 1,000 acres being burned at the rifle range while a unit from the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell were training. 

Soldiers were firing tracers as part of a training exercise when the fire started, According to Rick McWhite, Arnold Engineering Development Center's (AEDC) natural resource manager.

"The Army requires Soldiers to train with tracers so they can see where their bullets go and this helps them find their target better," he said. "The fire was started by a tracer that ignited the dry leaves and grass that are behind the pop-up targets."

Although 1,100 acres burned, area residents were never in danger, nor  was there a threat of the fire leaving base property, according to Mr. McWhite. Additionally, no roads were closed.

Because the site was so remote, the AEDC fire department and natural resource personnel had to use the first available road system closest to the fire to start their containment process.

Fortunately no one was injured and the fire actually benefited some of the natural resources out in the range woods.

"The type of plant life out there depends on fire every five years or so. We were planning a control burn sometime soon, so this helped that process," he said. "It also provided the game animals more nutritious food from the recycling of plant nutrients."

There are plans in the making to put additional control lines behind the range targets so when a fire occurs again they should be able to contain the wildfire within a few hundred acres, According to Mr. McWhite.

The last major wildfire on the rifle range was in April 2000 when more than 200 acres caught on fire.