Damaging Winds, Dry Conditions have Great Smoky Mountains National Park On Wildfire Watch

by Jon D. B.
damaging-winds-dry-conditions-have-great-smoky-mountains-national-park-on-wildfire-watch

“Due to dry conditions and damaging winds, the risk of fire danger is increased,”  Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) announced March 30 alongside further road and park closures.

Late Tuesday, the National Weather Service would issue a High Wind Warning for the mountains. The warning began at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 30 – lasting through 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, March 31. Officials anticipate sustained winds between 35 to 45 mph with damaging gusts up to 80 mph.  

Conditions throughout the park continue to be dry with an enhanced risk for wildfires Wednesday. This led to the discovery of a small, half-acre human-caused fire. The fire was detected at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Newfound Gap Road south of the Deep Creek Trailhead parking area. Thankfully, the fire was quickly extinguished due to a quick response from the National Park Service, Cherokee Fire Department, and nearby air support. This fire burned approximately 20 feet from the parking area. GRSM officials do not believe it to be related to the Thomas Divide Complex Fire.

To help prevent escalation or similar incidents, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have already closed several roads across the park in preparation for high winds and an a resulting risk of wildfires.

Citing “potential for hazardous conditions caused by downed trees and the increased risk of fire danger and spread,” the following roads closed after 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 30:

  • Newfound Gap Road
  • Cades Cove Loop Road
  • Foothills Parkway West (from Chilhowee Lake to Wears Valley)
  • Foothills Parkway East
  • Little River Road
  • Wear Cove Gap Road
  • Laurel Creek Road, and Tremont Road

GRSM officials anticipate these winds to affect primarily the Tennessee side of the park through Thursday. All closures will remain in effect until the High Wind Warning expires.

Once the winds pass, GRSM crews will assess damage and begin clearing roads for reopening. Additionally, the park wishes for visitors to be aware of the following:

  • Hikers are advised to avoid hiking during this time period across the park, particularly in areas with standing dead trees.
  • Park visitor centers, campgrounds, and picnic areas remain open at this time.
  • Visitors should exercise extreme caution when making travel plans.
  • Due to dry conditions and damaging winds, the risk of fire danger is increased.
GRSM air crews prepare to combat wildfires, such as the Thomas Divide Complex Fire Wednesday. (Photo credit: GRSM, NPS media release)

Conditions Continue to Feed Thomas Divide Complex Fire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As March comes to a close, such dry conditions and prevailing winds continue to feed the Thomas Divide Complex Fire in the North Carolina side of the park. Progress, however, is on the upswing.

GRSM officials report Wednesday that the 960-acre Thomas Divide Complex Fire is now at 60% containment. The Unified Command Center continues to coordinate suppression efforts with approximately 70 personnel participating as part of ground crews, engine crews, and air operations.

Firefighters have also established effective control lines around the Stone Pile fire section. Crews also continue to monitor and address any remaining burning fuels in the area. Firefighters have also established control lines for the larger Cooper Creek Fire section. Controls around the southern border are now in place. Crews will continue to work tomorrow to “strengthen northern control lines… And extinguish hot spots within the perimeter,” GRSM offers.

“With high winds expected across the park over the next two days under dry conditions, park officials remind visitors to exercise extreme caution in the park. Campfires should be fully extinguished. Cigarettes are to [see proper disposal] to prevent the accidental spread of wildfires,” park officials state in their Wednesday press release.

For a map and information on resulting closures in GRSM, please see our MAP: These Great Smoky Mountains National Park Trails and Campsites Remain Closed Due to Thomas Divide Complex Fire next.

For a full timeline of the complex fire, see Wildfire Timeline: Thomas Divide Complex Fire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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