Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Fire - US 441 in Smokies, trails close for 500-acre fire
The entire Newfound Gap Road/U.S. 441, the main artery through the Smokies from Cherokee to Gatlinburg, Tenn., as well as Cherokee Orchard Road, Elkmont Road, and several trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are now closed due to a second fire, the Chimney 2 Fire, on the Chimney Tops Trail.
The fire grew from 10-12 acres on Sunday to 500 acres on Monday, said Warren Bielenberg, Smokies spokesman.
"We've had very windy conditions. Today it's 15-25 mph with gusts up to 45 mph expected this afternoon," Bielenberg said. "Gusts up to 80 mph are expected tonight."
He said the fire is not at all contained, is human caused and is under investigation.
National Park Service fire crews are focusing on suppression efforts to ensure public safety and protect park facilities at locations such as Chimneys Picnic Area.
On Monday the fire was moving northeast, burning primarily along the ground layer through duff and leaf litter. Gusting winds have caused the fire to spot across the ridges in the Chimney Tops and Bullhead Ridge areas. On Nov. 27, three helicopters dropped water throughout the area to help suppress the fire over the extremely steep, rough terrain. Additional ground firefighters were also requested to help with suppression efforts in anticipation of predicted winds for Monday afternoon.
This is the second fire burning in the same area of the Smokies, Bielenberg said. The Chimney Tops Fire began Nov. 23 on the north spire of the Chimney Tops, which lies in Tennessee, just over the North Carolina side of the park, off Newfound Road/U.S. 441. It grew to about 8 acres and was completely contained over the weekend, Bielenberg said. It was also human caused and under investigation.
Another, small fire was reported at about 11:35 a.m. Monday about 150 yards behind the Twin Creek Picnic Pavilion off Cherokee Orchard Road, said Park spokeswoman Dana Soehn. As of 2 p.m. it had crossed over Twin Creeks Road and was heading toward the Park Vista Hotel in Gatlinburg.
National Park Service firefighters and the Gatlinburg Fire Department have responded. The Tennessee Division of Forestry is also responding to stage equipment for use as needed. All non-fire park service personnel have been evacuated from the nearby Twin Creeks Science Center as a precaution.
It is not yet known if the fire near Twin Creeks is a spot fire associated with the Chimney 2 Fire or if it is an independent fire. Due to continued erratic winds, the fires are unpredictable and more fire growth is expected. Currently park crews have been joined by firefighters from Utah and additional support resources have been ordered including an incident management team along with four hand crews (total of 80 people) and air support, expected to begin arriving late Monday and early Tuesday.
As of Monday there were 30 registered campers in the backcountry, she said. The park's backcountry office had been working to contact those people through text messages to tell them to evacuate. Backcountry areas are unsafe for travel and the following trails and backcountry campsites are closed until further notice.
Closed Backcountry Trails include Chimney Tops, Road Prong, Huskey Gap, Sugarland Mountain, Rough Creek, Little River, Cucumber Gap, Jakes Creek, Miry Ridge, Goshen Prong, Old Sugarlands, Bullhead, Rainbow Falls, Alum Cave, Brushy Mountain, Trillium Gap, Baskins Creek, Porters Creek, and Grapeyard Ridge trails.
Closed Backcountry Campsites include 21, 23, 24, 26, 27, 30, 31, 32, Mount Le Conte shelter, and Mount Collins shelter.
Park officials on Monday also issued an air quality advisory, saying it is unhealthy for the Sevier County section of the park and adjacent areas, especially in the Gatlinburg area due to heavy smoke from the nearby Chimney 2 Fire.
Concentrations of particulate matter from smoke along with the strong winds from the south has exceeded the human health standard and is expected to remain at these levels today for park visitors and staff. Active children and adults, and people with respiratory and pulmonary disease are at risk. People should refrain from strenuous or prolonged physical outdoor activities and limit exposure.
The cause of the fire near Chimney Tops appears to be human caused and is under investigation. If anyone has information regarding the origin of this fire, or other fires in the park, call the park’s Tip Line at 865-436-1580.