The death toll from a devastating blaze in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee rose to 13 on Friday December21, 2016. The highest loss of civilian life from a single U.S. wildfire in 13 years. Investigators have determined the so-called Chimney Tops 2 fire, which laid waste to whole neighborhoods in the resort town of Gatlinburg earlier this week, was caused by unspecified human activity. I am not sure what “unspecified human activity” translates to but I can offer a short comparison in laws intending to prevent discarded cigarette butts from being the human activity.
In Oregon, they have a law which states, “No one shall, at any time, throw away any lighted tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, matches or other lighted material, on any forestland, private road, public highway or railroad right of way within this state.” Not surprisingly law enforcement is more vigilant in looking for violators during fire season when the risk is high. According to Oregon State Police anyone who chucks a still-burning cigarette butt out the window is looking at a class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500 and/or up to six months in jail.
In Tennessee, anyone who tosses a single cigarette butt on the ground may be charged with mitigated criminal littering and fined $50. Having lived in both states I can attest that it is much hotter and drier in Tennessee than Oregon. Common sense suggests the hazard of fires starting from discarded cigarette butts would be greater as well. My youngest son and I put out a small fire by the side of the road in Tennessee which was something I had never needed to do in 40 plus years in Oregon.
I’m not blaming the Gatlinburg fire on a careless smoker as the investigation continues. The tremendous loss of life and property, both residential and business, do require an analysis of how to prevent a similar disaster. I find it unacceptable behavior that the ground is a suitable place to discard cigarette butts. If people who smoke cannot police themselves than I would suggest laws be tightened and enforced to discourage the behavior.