November, 28, 2016 VISITOR ALERT: This report on Wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been compiled from official press releases issued by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) throughout the day. This afternoon ashes from the fire were falling like snowflakes in Gatlinburg, Sevierville and Pigeon Forge. The sky was an eerie shade of yellow with the sun glowing like an orange moon in the sky.
Several park roads, trails, campsites and shelters are closed for safety. Due to erratic winds, the fire is very unpredictable. An Air Quality Alert has been issued by the National Park Service. For a complete listing of closures in the park, visit GSMNP Visitor Advisory Alerts.
Concentrations of particulate matter from smoke, along with the strong winds from the south has exceeded the human health standard. 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.
At 1:00 p.m today on Monday, November 28, 2016, Great Smoky Mountains National Park recorded average wind speeds of 20 mph with gusts up to 50 mph. The forecast is for wind speed to increase throughout the night. Fire growth is expected. The park continues to experience very dry conditions with relative humidity less than 50%. Because of extreme weather conditions today, air crews were unable to fly to view the fires or drop water in suppression efforts. According to the National Park Service, wind gusts of up to 85 mph are being predicted.
Fortunately, rain is in the weather forecast for tonight. According to Knoxville’s WBIR-TV meteorologist Todd Howell, the Smokies are expected to see rainfall of 2 to 3.5 inches during the next 48 hours. The station’s viewing area is under a High Wind Advisory until 7:00 a.m. Tuesday, November 28, 2016 with a 60% chance of rain expected. Wednesday, November 29, 2016 is expected to bring more rain at 90%; however, thunderstorms with high winds may accompany this front.
The first fire, known as Chimney 2 Fire, started on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016 on the north spire of the Chimney Tops. The fire was first reported at less than 2 acres and grew to 8 acres by the following Saturday. Today, reports stated that almost 500 acres was on fire.
Another small fire was reported at approximately 11:35 a.m. today near the Twin Creeks Picnic Pavilion off of Cherokee Orchard Road. It is unknown if this is a spot fire from the Chimney 2 Fire or if it is an independent ignition. 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, please call the National Park Service’s Tip Line at 865-436-1580.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have closed Newfound Gap Road, Cherokee Orchard Road, Elkmont Road, and several trails due to the Chimney 2 Fire. 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.
The fire is currently 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 Sunday, November 27, three helicopters dropped water throughout the area to help suppress the fire over the extremely steep, rough terrain. Additional ground firefighters from Utah have been brought in to aid with suppression efforts in anticipation of predicted winds for this Monday night.
Backcountry areas are unsafe for travel and the following trails and backcountry campsites are currently 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, Mt. Le Conte shelter, and Mt. Collins shelter.
Insider Note: Many folks have wondered why the Dollywood Express steam engine hasn’t been running at Dollywood theme park; well, that’s been due to the extreme drought conditions in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Residents of the Mynatt Park neighborhood near the Twin Creeks area have been asked to voluntarily evacuate as an extra-precautionary measure. HeySmokies is sending extra good thoughts for the firefighters, residents, and visitors to GSMNP. Stay safe everyone! We’ll update again just as soon as possible.