HomeOutdoorsWildfire Timeline: Thomas Divide Complex Fire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Wildfire Timeline: Thomas Divide Complex Fire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

by Jon D. B.
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Great Smoky Mountains News Release - Park trails remain closed due to Thomas Divide Complex Fire. (Photo credit: GRSM, NPS press release)

Updated 4/04/2022: Timeline of NPS information as Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) fights to contain the Thomas Divide Complex Fire.

As March 2022 came to a close, Great Smoky Mountains National Park firefighters and multiple agencies worked tirelessly to extinguish the Thomas Divide Complex Fire. The complex, comprised of two wildfires, burned east of Bryson City, North Carolina. The NC side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park would see significant closures as a result.

By April 2, 2022, the complex fire would be contained and no longer considered a threat. Below is a timeline of events, closures, and information provided by the National Park Service and GRSM during the time of the fire.

GRSM Thomas Divide Complex Fire Timeline:

Saturday, March 26, 2022

  • 1:00 PM: Park officials notified of a fire south of the park near Cooper Creek, East of Bryson City, North Carolina
  • While responding, GRSM Rangers detect another fire near Stone Pile Gap, Thomas Divide area
  • Incident Command Post established at Swain County East Elementary School
  • 4:30 PM: GRSM officials close several trails and backcountry campsites due to spreading wildfires
  • Toms Branch Road near Deep Creek is also closed due to spreading wildfires

Sunday, March 27, 2022

  • 10:26 AM: GRSM Officials elevate park wildfires to Thomas Divide Complex Fire in press release
  • GRSM announces size of included Stone Pile Fire (140+ acres) and Cooper Creek Fire (170+ acres)
  • 50+ firefighters work to establish firebreak lines via hand crews and bulldozers

Monday, March 28, 2022

  • 6:21 AM: The Complex Fire is at 30% containment with approximately 46% of the affected 750 acres being inside park boundaries.  
  • Ignition of both fires has been confirmed by GRSM as down power lines due to high winds and fallen trees.
  • 7:28 PM: The fire has affected approximately 950 acres, with 39% of the affected area being inside park boundaries and 61% being Swain County private property.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park fire officials report that the Thomas Divide Complex Fire is now at 40 % containment.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

  • 7:05 PM: At 960-acres, the Thomas Divide Complex Fire is now 60 percent contained.
  • Conditions throughout the park continue to be dry with an enhanced risk for wildfires.

For a map and list of trail, campsite, and road closures, please see: MAP: These Great Smoky Mountains National Park Trails and Campsites Remain Closed Due to Thomas Divide Complex Fire.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

  • 6:03 PM: Despite high winds overnight, both fires in the Thomas Divide Complex held containment lines thanks to excellent work by firefighters from multiple agencies. Both fires also received approximately 0.5 inch of rain overnight. 
  • Wet fuels and little observed fire activity led to the Stone Pile Fire being unstaffed today. On the Cooper Creek Fire, firefighters continued to mop up and cold trail around residences and structures, as well as collect GPS data to improve mapping. 

In Detail: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Battles North Carolina Wildfires

“At approximately 1:00 p.m., park officials were notified that a fire south of the park near Cooper Creek was approaching the park boundary. When responding to this fire, Park Rangers detected another fire near Stone Pile Gap near the Thomas Divide area,” GRSM would announce Saturday as part of their first press release on the wildfires.

As a result, The Bureau of Indian Affairs would begin leading suppression efforts for the Cooper Creek Fire that afternoon. In addition, Bryson City Fire Department leads suppression efforts for what would become the Thomas Divide Fire Complex. National Park Service, state, and county resources have also responded to support efforts.

To help fight the blaze, an Incident Command Post was established Saturday at the Swain County East Elementary School. And in the interest of public safety, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials would close several trails and backcountry campsites at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 26, due to wildfire activity between Deep Creek and Newfound Gap Road in North Carolina (see detailed map and list above).

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Elevates Wildfires to Thomas Divide Complex Fire

As of Sunday, March 30, two wind-driven wildfires remain active inside GRSM. Both fires would originate south of the park boundary in North Carolina.

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Smoke rises from the Thomas Divide Complex Fire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina. (Photo credit: GRSM, NPS press release)

The Thomas Divide Complex Fire holds two wildfires. The first is the Stone Pile Fire, which began as an approximately 140 acre wildfire. Secondly, the Cooper Creek Fire burns at approximately 170 acres. As of Tuesday, however, the complex is affecting a 950+ acres.

According to NPS and GRSM’s Tuesday press release, the complex is estimated to be at 60 percent containment. Currently, under half of the fire burns within the national park boundary. Dozens of park trails and backcountry campsites remain closed Sunday between Deep Creek and Newfound Gap Road. These closures will remain until further notice.

On Sunday, GRSM would announce that approximately 50 firefighters work to establish firebreak lines using hand crews and bulldozers. This number would quickly increase to 70 as the complex fire spread to affect 750 acres – then 950 – over the course of the next 48 hours. Both inside and outside park boundaries, firefighters work to provide structure protection.

“Ignition of both fires has been confirmed as down power lines due to high winds and fallen trees,” park officials announced early Monday.

Wildfires continue to be fed by harsh winds. If the winds break, air resources are available to respond.

Outsider will continue to update this timeline with information from Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials as it becomes available.

Outsider.com