Great Smoky Mountains Wildfire Caused by Motorcycle Collision in National Park, Now 90% Contained: PHOTOS

by Jon D. B.
11.6.22 Motorcycle remnants along Hwy 129. (Photo credit: GRSM, NPS media release).

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) has revealed the wildfire near Chilhowee Lake was started by a motorcycle’s explosion after a collision. Officials report the fire originally ignited on Sunday, November 6, after a motorcyclist lost control and collided with the roadside of Highway 129. The driver was able to safely exit the accident site before their motorcycle erupted, but the scene was “engulfed in flames” upon collision. NPS photos shared with Outsider show the grizzly aftermath:

The accident ignited what would become a 40-acre wildfire near Chilhowee Lake. The blaze continues to smolder on the western boundary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Highway 129’s mile marker 4.5. But thanks to the risk and efforts of 60+ wildland firefighters, the wildfire is currently at 90% containment.

Incident Commander Erik Newell coordinated wildland firefighter response to the wildfire, GRSM tells Outsider in their media release. Rainfall would also help firefighters battling the blaze, after 0.25-0.5 inches fell over the last 24 hours. In addition, crews established a hand-dug firebreak line along the perimeter of the fire. This helps prevent fire growth, and provided protection for GRSM’s backcountry.

‘Minimal fire behavior is currently observed. But there is some smoldering in the area’

Currently, “Minimal fire behavior is currently observed. But there is some smoldering in the area,” the park reiterates. To help, crews are removing hazard trees along the Highway 129 road corridor of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“Wildland firefighting operations included a hotshot crew, hand crews, and a Type 2 helicopter operation from the US Forest Service, along with a hand crew and Type 6 engine crew from the National Park Service (NPS) Appalachian Piedmont Coastal Fire Management Zone module,” GRSM cites.

To accommodate, Highway 129 would close between Deals Gap, North Carolina and the Tabcat Boat Launch area in Tennessee until Tuesday, November 8. Parson Branch Road remains closed at this time.

Great Smoky Mountains’ Wildfire is Separate From National Park’s Intentional Burning

As previously reported, GRSM and Appalachian Piedmont Coastal Fire Management Zone staff will burn approximately 1,200 acres of fields within Cades Cove throughout this month. As weather permits, these prescribed burns will take place between Tuesday, November 1 and Tuesday, November 22.

Prescribed burns are seasonal controlled burns. They help perpetuate native herbaceous species that provide high quality cover and foraging opportunities for a diversity of wildlife, including deer, turkeys, and ground nesting birds, the park explains. This comes in addition to reducing potential fuel for destructive, un-controlled wildfires.

The park would warn visitors to be wary of smoke and closures as a result. Yet this came previously to the wildfire that broke out in the park this week.

A prescribed burn in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo credit: NPS Photo, Media release)

Cades Cove has been an Appalachian hub for centuries. Today, it remains one of the most iconic destinations in the most visited national park in the world. Gorgeous Tennessee scenery, fascinating history, and bountiful wildlife watching are all protected by the park via prescribed burning.

For over two decades now, GRSM park managers have conducted burns during spring and fall. Specific parameters are necessary to do so, as to not cause unintentional fires. The result is the safe reduction of fuels for true wildfires, such as the one ignited this week.

Prescribed burns also significantly help restore meadow habitats and maintain the historic landscape of Cades Cove. For more be sure to see our previous coverage on the Smokies’ fall fires.