Smoky Mountains Wildfire: National Park Contained Small Foothills Parkway Fire Over the Weekend

by Jon D. B.

As Friday rolled into the weekend, GRSM firefighters raced to contain a small 1.7-acre wildfire along Foothills Parkway before it got out of control.

For Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) staff and all fellow Tennesseans, any wildfire – no matter how big or small – brings to mind the horrible 2016 fires that ravaged Gatlinburg and surrounding areas. Thankfully, this small wildfire was put to rest before any damage could be done.

On Friday, February 11, Great Smoky Mountains National Park firefighters responded to the 1.7-acre wildfire. Burning along the Foothills Parkway, GRSM crew would meet the flames at 4:19 p.m. Pigeon Forge Fire Department, Sevier County Emergency Service, and Tennessee Division of Forestry would all assist GRSM fire crews in their suppression efforts.

But this is the Volunteer State, and volunteer firefighters from Wears Valley, Walland, and Seymour Fire Departments Firefighters would all fight alongside to quell the flames. By their combined efforts, the wildfire would cease around 9:20 p.m. Friday night.

To ensure the safety of all local residents, GRSM’s stretch of the Foothills Parkway would close to all use during. Specifically, the drive between Wears Valley and Walland, TN was affected. For non-locals, this puts the sight of the fire near mile-marker 30 along the Foothills Parkway near Headrick Gap in Wears Valley.

What Caused GRSM’s Small February Wildfire?

According to GRSM’s press release, the fire would ignite due to a downed power line. Ignition Park engine crews stuck around to monitor the site overnight. No further incidents came over the weekend, signaling another job well done by the park’s stellar fire crew.

Power lines have been a main cause of wildfire across America in recent years. As the climate warms and vegetation stays drier, the risk of fire increases. As for how, an active power line’s arcing electricity will readily ignite any vegetation it comes in contact with. This comes courtesy of conductor slap, a power industry term meaning and unintentional contact of bare-wire phase conductors. The result is high-energy arcing which ejects hot metal particles and electrical sparks. Both of which are capable of igniting fire sources like foliage, wood, and brush.

Although the power lines are manmade, these wildfires can come from natural causes. Often, a tree will fall, severing power lines and sending live wires down into vegetation.

Recalling, Preventing the Horrors of 2016 for All

This was not, however, the cause of the Great Smoky Mountains Wildfire of 2016. Also known as the Gatlinburg Fire, or Chimney Tops & Chimney Tops 2 Fire via GRSM, the horrific fires of Nov. 2016 came courtesy of Aggravated Arson. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation found that two juveniles started those fires; both seeing arrest.

According to the park, approximately 11,000 acres burned within Great Smoky Mountains National Park itself. This equals about 2.1% of GRSM’s total land. In addition, around 6,000 acres outside the park within Sevier County would burn, as well.

To this day, a mosaic of charred and uncharred land remains. Thankfully, most of Gatlinburg has fully recovered and continues to thrive in 2022. But this February wildfire, no matter how small, is a stark reminder of the ever-increasing perils of wildfires in an ever-drying world. And every Outsider’s goal is to prevent further wildfires at any cost. To do so, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s 10 Tips to Prevent Wildfires offers the following:

  1. Check weather and drought conditions.
  2. Build your campfire in an open location and far from flammables.
  3. Douse your campfire until it’s cold.
  4. Keep vehicles off dry grass.
  5. Regularly maintain your equipment and vehicle.
  6. Practice vehicle safety.
  7. Check your tires, bearings and axles on your trailer.
  8. Keep sparks away from dry vegetation.
  9. Check conditions and regulations before you use fireworks or consider safe alternatives.
  10. Cautiously burn debris and never when it’s windy or restricted.

It may seem odd to have so many vehicle-centric tips on this list, and if it is, be sure to check out DOI’s full breakdown of their list here to learn more on wildfire safety and what we can all do to prevent wildfires.