News Sentinel article about Gatlinburg fire

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Don Jacobs of the Knoxville News Sentinel has written a well researched article about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire that burned into Gatlinburg, Tennessee on November 28. The fire was monitored but not suppressed for five days until a predicted wind event pushed the fire into the city, killing 14 people, destroying 2,013 homes and 53 commercial structures, and causing more than $500 million in damage.

In addition to talking with Great Smoky Mountains National Park personnel in an attempt to determine what actions were taken on the fire, Mr. Jacobs interviewed four former wildland firefighters to gather information about how wildfires are typically managed.

Below is the beginning of the article. You can read the entire piece here.

Officials should have doused a 1.5-acre fire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park days before high winds created a megafire that swept into Gatlinburg, former U.S. Forest Service firefighters said .

At the very least, said retired employees with almost 200 years of firefighting experience, officials in the National Park should have summoned every resource available when alerted Nov. 26 of the expected high winds.

“I’ve written for years that the best way to keep fires from becoming megafires is to attack them with overwhelming force, both on the ground and from the air,” said Bill Gabbert, who writes an online blog about wildland fires and aviation resources to battle wildland fires.

“People say that is very expensive, but it is not as expensive as losing 14 lives and $500 million in lost structures.”

Gabbert has written three articles on wildfiretoday.com about the Gatlinburg fires, providing technical data about fire conditions and aerial resources available to firefighters.

Four other former U.S. Forest Service firefighters agreed park officials didn’t pay attention to the severe drought, low humidity that provided a tinderbox for flames, available options to quell the slow-moving fire before winds made the flames uncontrollable and alarming weather forecasts.

Mr. Jacobs quoted the park’s Superintendent, Clay Jordan, as saying:

There was no way the fire could have been extinguished before the winds came.

For the most current information about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Gatlinburg, see our articles tagged “Chimney 2 Fire”.

Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills. Google+

38 thoughts on “News Sentinel article about Gatlinburg fire”

  1. In evaluating the park’s response to the Chimney Tops 2 fire, I really hope that the recent changes in the forest environment will be considered for the future. So many of the conifers are dead from exotic invasive adelgids, providing additional wildfire fuel, and the forest floor is no longer shaded in the winter. It’s not the same environment that it used to be. It’s much drier in general and will remain that way for decades, regardless of the weather conditions.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I’ve been worried sick about the evergreen dieoff for many years. It seems the park bureaucracy is unaware or does not care or their protocol doesn’t allow for free thinking. But, it almost destroyed my hometown and I hope and pray to God that somebody hears you. I hear you. I just hope and pray somebody listens so this won’t ever be allowed to happen again. And I do believe it was allowed to happen by bureaucracy and protocol. We can’t ever let this happen anywhere else ever again.

    2. I’m replying to the statement from park superintendent Clay Jordon, I believe the park superintendent was Cassius Cash, who was given this job from the Atlanta office and he wasn’t even remotely qualified for the job. His comment is incorrect, we were there that week-end hiking on November 25th, the fire was burning straight up no winds, we have a picture if proof is needed, but if I had sit idly by like they did I might be saying it couldn’t have been put out after 14 people died and its now estimated over 800 million in damage and they aren’t thru yet! What is the truth they don’t know if they could have put it out or not because they didn’t attempt to put it out, period. The Park Service, the county and the city are all copable in this disaster. We lost out home and everything in it. I wish the insurance companies and homeowners would sue the living crap out of them, they need to pay so the next time if this happens they will do something! After all a bought lesson is a learned lesson! I’m still pissed because I feel like if they had even made an attempt I would have been more accepting, then didn’t and I’m not.

      1. I hope you have signed up for the class action lawsuit against the Park. If not, contact Sid Gilreath and Associates in Knoxville. It’s being filed in June. Sorry about your home.

  2. The NPS and Forest Service should dispense with the let it burn policy immediately. It is cheaper and safer to put fires out prior to killing people. Allowing a fire to burn is a ticking time bomb.

    1. Decisions based on emotion should be avoided such as yours.

      Is every fire that is managed a “ticking time bomb” waiting to leap into a lethal inferno?

      1. Nope not every fire is a lethal ticking time bomb, but I don’t like people taking chances with fire – that’s not emotion; it’s respect.

        Whether fires are managed for resource benefit, a prescribed fire, or they are wildfires that are not actively extinguished, they have the power to kill and destroy peoples’ property. That’s not emotion; it’s a fact.

        The largest losses of life in recent years have been on fires that have been burning for several days and not actively controlled (Yarnell and South Canyon). Both of those fires looked minor before they killed.

        1. Reading this article, the situation immediately reminded me of the Yarnell Fire. I have a house there that narrowly escaped burning.

    2. Full suppression hasn’t exactly worked out well for us as policy either. It’s well documented that by suppressing fires for over a hundred years we have transformed the forests into tinderboxes with plenty of ladder fuels that take the fire directly into the tree crowns for extremely severe burning conditions. You can’t catch every fire and the ones we don’t catch completely nuke the landscape due to the transformed landscape and these fires we can’t catch burning in the hottest and driest part of the year (which has something to do with why they weren’t caught.) Ultimately we need more fire not less on the landscape. Ideally this would take the form of prescribed fire but even in western forests with an active burn program it feels like the amount of treatments we are able to do with the sheer number of acres that need work makes our efforts feel like a drop in the bucket sometimes. We do no one any favors in the long run by taking a full suppression strategy when conditions aren’t as severe as a matter of course.

      1. Smokey Bear is not the only reason why fires burn intensely in the west. There had never been active fire control prior to the “Big Blowup in 1910”, but that fire burned actively with high fuel consumption. Why are there stand replacing fires in Alaska? The are many instances that refute the concept that fuel accumulation creates a dangerous situation.

        Simply put, allowing fires to burn create dangers for everyone and the only way to mitigate those hazards is to put the fire out. If a little fuel accumulates it will be fine; it is preferable to having people die or peoples’ homes burning.

        1. This is a false premise argument. Citing stand replacement fires in black-spruce or lodgepole forests as supporting a full-suppression mandate is both ecologically inappropriate and operationally wrong-minded.

          Regarding the Big Blowup- actually there was about a hundred years of fire control related policy that adversely affected fuel conditions and dramatically increased fire effects, it just was based on a political and military response to aboriginal groups and “opening the west”. Furthermore, the amount of unchecked resource development in many of the affected areas (and associated starts) contributed to the events that transpired.

          I’m afraid that it is not a matter of “a little fuel accumulates”, as we’ve already seen the catastrophic impacts of fuel loaded fires on soils and watersheds. The easiest band-aid option at this point is the Gabbert Rx of overwhelming IA- but this only delays the inevitable, compounding the root cause of the problem and leaving it for future generations to deal with.

          From my side of the armchair, allowing an increasing portion of fires to burn is going to be the only feasible option for land managers moving forward. I expect that in the not-to-distant future, it will be the position of insurance companies and government alike to put the responsibility on citizens who chose to live in the interface/intermix to have defensible space and also simply accept the possibility of a loss of values therein.

          With a message that might support either of our assertions- Rocky Barker’s Scorched Earth may interest you. A few errors,editorial bias’ and sensationalism but interesting nonetheless (and the parallel of public fervor, knee-jerk politics and calls for agency mandate re-examination is also fairly apt). Tom and Nathan explore this a bit more in the comments below.

          Apologies to Bill regarding this straying from the direct conversation on the Chimney 2 incident, tactics in the Southern GAC/Smokeys during PL5, NPS Let-Burn Policy, etc. California Firefighter certainly has a case from his perspective, I just thought I’d share mine.

          1. I believe all fuel models can have stand replacing fires. Even coyote brush on the coast of California will burn completely with the right conditions. If I am ecologically inappropriate, it’s cool.
            If there was a “hundred years of fire control related policy that adversely affected fuel conditions and dramatically increased fire effects” in Idaho and Montana prior to the 1910 Big Blow Up, it must have been instituted by Lewis and Clark. Simple fact of the matter is, no one was putting out fires in any number during the era prior to the big blow up. It was what started the out by 10 am policy.
            It is time to revisit the let it burn policy. It may have merit in completely unpopulated areas, but I sincerely believe human life is more important than the ecology.

      1. Over 75 people died in the 1910 Fires. What do we do with that factoid? Damned if we do, damned if we don’t, I guess. I do not think anyone is saying it is okay that human life is lost during any fire event. Of course not. This was not a “let it burn”, it was a suppression fire that overran its predictions and control points. It certainly could have been managed better knowing what we know now. But we did not know that an eastern fuel type fire could spot three miles, or run for miles downslope in a single burn period; at least I didn’t. Nothing up to this point in this regional fire season had indicated such a fire run. Total suppression is not the answer, nor is a total “let it burn” policy. We need to get better at fire management, but whenever in doubt, evacuate early not later.

    3. It’s easy, Federal Fire in the Forest Service needs to be reformed and detach its self from the Dept. Of agriculture and manage Fed fire under the Dept. Of Homeland security or Fema. I feel resources would be better utilized around the country and not be held down by non fire forest supervisors and Ranger’s.

  3. Well, second guessing is not a good thing to do, BUT I think anyone with a few years experience can recognize a few facts that apparently weren’t appropriately considered: The SE region had been in PL 5 for weeks; local resources were tired from continued assignments; numerous other fires burning in the area causing competition for resources; very few available resources left nationally with lots of UTF’s the past couple weeks; extremely dry; big winds predicted; and a small park with close boundaries and homes close by. They should have put it out when first found. I know there is some really steep rough country in there, so firefighter safety is a big consideration, but they could have backed off a little and still taken care of it in the first couple days.

    And what is up with their 410 acre box? It would have probably worked great if they had been proactive and burned those lines in the first few days before the winds hit. But waiting for it to come to you is just asking for a butt kicking.

    We do studies and reviews, make recommendations, and then do the same dumb stuff again in a few years. Human nature, I guess….

  4. Don Jacobs, his publisher and editor of the Knoxville New Sentinel as well as Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today should be applauded for their integrity, investigative journalism, and experience! This praise goes for the numerous firefighters and their comments to this site along with the dedication to fight fire. Finally, the citizens are vindicated. We the people are usually denied a voice when its comes to the Imperialism of the National Park Service.

    Though the Internet has its abusers and pitfalls, one thing is certain, it allows the people to strive for a “voice” amid the censorship of big giant news media – yes our local television affiliates. Hopefully, the Goliath mentality of the NPS will be broken in time where they will “sincerely” listen to the people. Hopefully they will implement new management strategies regarding forestry/fire management and other issues.

    Let me leave GSMNP officials and managers with one thought. The entire ecosystem within the Park has gotten to such an extreme with excessive fuels for wildfire that managing to prevent future wildfires seems overwhelming, if not impossible. Though every fire prevention method should be utilized, mankind and the land are still at the sole mercy of the Creator. Consistent rain from the heavens and the “process of decay” is the safest and most cost effective way to suppress these excessive fuels in the forest. I would suggest to sincerely pray for rain. I’m sure scores of firefighters amid the inferno have learned to pray and ask God Almighty to bring forth His rain (James 5:18, Jeremiah 51:16).

    Tommy

  5. In my opinion, the NPS should have been more aware of the fire conditions prior to the mega-fire. That is water over the bridge now. I hope there will be some good learning out of all of this. I also look forward to seeing how mother nature heals from all the devastation. I’m sure that the people will rebuild. The question is how will the mountains will restore themselves and what species have we lost due to the fire. I know that some species are fire-dependent for survival.

  6. I do not wish to see the FMO of GRSM take the brunt of this article nor the sad situation that ensued after the Gatlinburg Fire, but I do wish to see the NPS change how they do fire. Will this change their policies? Will they spend more money on firefighter training? Will they allow their employees to take fire assignments elsewhere to increase their knowledge of fire behavior? Will they continue with the let it burn, fire is natural, policy? Will this force the NPS to adapt q more aggressive attitude towards putting fires out, even if it means using dozers on the natural resources? As you can see, I have a lot of questions in how this will affect their policies, policies I personally always disagreed with. But one last question: did the GRSM have an urban interface plan in place within their fire management plan?

  7. What’s seems to be lost in this discussion of the fire is how little national reaction it’s causing. The Yellowstone area fires of 1988 triggered GAO reports, Congressional hearings, and a massive review and revision of federal fire policies, although no lives were lost and few if any structures lost. In 2000, the Bandelier NM fire burned into Los Alamos, triggering another round of Congressional hearings, an immediate review ordered by the DOI Secretary, calls for the park staff to be sent to jail, another review of federal fire policy, and like in 1988, a moratorium on prescribed and natural fires until fire management plans were revised to incorporate new policy requirements. But while many strucures were lost in 2000, again, no lives were lost. This time, lives are lost, many structures are destroyed, but as yet, there seems to be no hearings, no high level review, no moratoriums, no review of fire policies and practices, really nothing seems to be happening except a LE investigation and what sounds like an opportunity to collect “lessons learned.” Given the magnitude of the incident, the level of response seems underwhelming, and somehow disturbing, especially compared to the other two fires. It would be a shame if we’ve become too inured to the occurrence of large, destructive fires.

    1. Well this fire is different from Yellowstone in 88′ or Los Alamos in 2000 in several key respects. First off it’s an arson fire so the “let it burn” policy being a factor isn’t a factor to a lay person. In Yellowstone media attention also built over months while the Gatlinburg fire situation happened over a week. Again being an arson instead of a prescribed fire makes a big difference in comparison to 2000. Another big factor is as far as the blame game is concerned there could be plenty to go around with local officials sharing in, especially for the lack of effective evacuation notices. Also this is Tennessee, not the west where fire and land management is a political lightning rod with high level politicians always willing to weigh in. It’s early yet so a political firestorm could very well still follow to actual one. But maybe we should also talk about the amount of development right on the park border and other conditions that consistently lead to tragedy as well. Fires are going to happen just like floods. High loss of life and extensive property damage are the results of decisions or lack thereof made many years earlier, as well as how events are managed.

  8. “Don Jacobs of the Knoxville News Sentinel has written a well researched article about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire that burned into Gatlinburg”

    Seriously Bill? He just took that Monday morning QB bit you wrote 2 weeks ago and added a couple of USFS “sources” to corroborate it. Although, maybe if he had done “research,” he may have mentioned Salansky’s distinguished career as a USFS FMO, how much he has done to expand prescribed burning in the Southern Apps and on Cherokee, or the fact that he’s only been Smokies FMO for about a year, and is working to trying to change a no-fire culture.

    That would have been “well researched,” whereas this is just 20:20 hindsight. None of the Southern App fires managed by the USFS or anyone else in the 2 months leading up to Gatlinburg were “attacked with overwhelming force.” That’s not in the well-researched article? Nope it just turns out that those fires were generally not threatening homes when 60mph winds passed through.

    1. The issue isn’t with the troops on the ground. The philosophy of letting fires burn is entrenched in all federal land agencies. I strongly wish rather than focusing on individual decisions, the agencies themselves take a look at the bigger picture and back away from a let it burn philosophy.

    2. Well said Adam. I didn’t have the Southeast intel that you shared, but felt the same way. There was no outside or long term perspective added here, just 20/20 bias on a tragedy. There are always going to be Monday morning quarterbacks.

      Making matters worse, officials are not even being allowed to share what/how events did or didn’t effect their decision making. This is often not understood by the public, that government employees are often gagged from speaking. People just think about it the same way as a public citizen who chooses “no comment” and assumes that shows guilt or deception.

      I personally loathed the simplistic view that all fires will be “monitored” being interpreted that every fire has a 24/7 watch on it. Obviously this is sometimes necessary and is carried out. There are “a ton,” I would say a majority of fires in many areas, that are left unattended for 8hrs to several days at a time. It may have not been prudent to take that approach on the night before the blow up, but to elude that all fires will be monitored 24/7 is completely inaccurate and misleading. Did he even attempt to rectify the “policy” and reality with anyone?

  9. Thanks to Wild Fire Today for presenting this article. The comprehensive and thorough research by Knoxville Sentinel investigative reported Don Jacobs and Bill Gabbert of Wild Fire Today has provided a “picture” of what lead up to the escape of Chimney 2. In addition Mr. Jacob devoted time to contacting experienced (100’s of years) wild land fire fighters to ascertain how the system of suppressing wildfire is accomplished. I found it interesting that according to those wildfire experts, that the Chimney 2 was no different in the early stage (1.5) acres than any other wild fire. As with the great Oakland Hills Fire (Tunnel) of 1991 and now the Chimney 2 it appears both were manageable (extinguished) before the wind event arrived.

  10. For those policy writers, agency individuals and observers that seem to “live in the moment” I humbly offer only two documents as an example of a historical perspective:

    (From 1898) Wildfire History of South Carolina:
    http://www.state.sc.us/forest/firesign.htm
    (I acknowledge that SC isn’t East TN but they do have some similarities in fuel, Wx and culture).

    For those who simply blame the successful suppression strategy (that slowly jelled over the decades after 1910) for the recent decades of wildfire incidents; A wildfire history synopsis (from 1804) for what is now the lower 48 states of USA:
    https://www.nps.gov/fire/wildland-fire/learning-center/fireside-chats/history-timeline.cfm

    My point is that large, destructive & killing, stand replacing fires predate, and are not solely caused by, European emigration and landscape manipulation in N. America. The issue is not about total control by us humans. It’s more about how can we begin to understand it, partially influence it and coexist with it.

    Far be it for me, or anyone, to deny the new complications such as; introduction of non-native vegetation, increased man caused ignitions and the advent of the Wildland Urban Interface.

    For my money… “Hit ’em hard and keep ’em out of the news” is the only foreseeable option… especially knowing from years of experience that one firefighters “inaccessible terrain” is another firefighters piece of cake, not to mention cubic yards of water, delivered early by air, can buy loads of time and suppression power.

    But, I’m not there so will not argue over the terrain.

    1. The first chimney fire was suppressed using hand tools. That is what the article says, and even the two pictures of the first fire do show chainsaw work.

      The boys who started the second fire were photographed when another hiker accidentally caught them in a photo with a smoke from a match being dropped in the duff. Then they discovered this in their photo, after the hike sometime, and notified authorities.

      My point being it is most probable the boys started the fire along the trail (again) and it should have been equally as accessible as the first fire.

      I thought the article was well researched. I tried to gain access to one of the first NPS employees who saw that the fire had escaped and jumped 441 but the NPS had already instructed them to not discuss with anyone.

      I think the second Chimney fire (the one that burned into Gatlinburg) was not attacked aggressively because it was during the Thanksgiving holiday. It appears from the article that no additional resources were ordered until Sunday or less than 24 hours before the blow up.

      Everyone in the entire region was awaiting the rain that came Monday 11/28. It appears to me that the real strategy the NPS were relying on was simply the rain. It is hard to fathom they were actually going to let the fire burn 400 plus acres with all the fuel that was available.

      Thanks Mr Gabbert

  11. Unfortunately, your commentary nor the News Sentinel article are not well-researched, at all. Your most glaring error is in stating that all of the fire that occurred outside of the park that day…was caused by the lack of suppression of the fire…inside the park. You have failed to consider the ignition sources for the majority of the acreage burned outside the park….wind-downed power lines and transformers. I myself saw one sparking and causing a grass fire as I evacuated from my home that night. Looking at a map of the complex perimeters, even the most incompetent arson investigator would fail to prove a link between many of the burned areas and the park source (yet you have…deduced a link with your citable, substantiated-by-evidence and boots-on-the-ground-observations….).

    You stated that a Hot Shot Crew should have been immediately assigned to the fire, and they would have put it out. Again, poor research: Hot Shot Crews, while the “supermen” of the fire trade, will not insert themselves into an area where they have no escape route, a lesson that you elaborated on in detail following Yarnell. Chimney Tops, with no egress/ingress routes other than the trail itself…offers NO (ZERO, NONE) escape routes for fire fighters working on steep terrain and impenetrable vegetation.

    You previously mentioned fear of cost as a reason why the NPS didn’t order more resources on day 1 or 2. Not even the president himself could have ordered helicopters to the Smokies on a 1 or an 8 acre fire. Congress….literally…would have to legislate and appropriate the money. The Smokies is a no-fee park, meaning…there is NO (ZERO, NONE, NOTHING) money available for annoyances like a wildfire, prescribed burns, or fuel reduction. Do the math on how many rolls of toilet paper 10,000,000 annual visitors go through, and what money is left over after keeping the bathrooms stocked and clean.

    You place blame for lack of an evacuation notice at the NPS as well. You should know…the City of Gatlinburg wasn’t going to let any tourists leave while they still had a dollar in their pocket to spend. Coincidence….that the evac order finally went out after the downtown businesses started voluntarily closing.

    Your readers should know the environment, and since, you’re deliberately choosing not to describe it, I’ll fill them in. The City of Gatlinburg is made up mostly of rental cabin communities: poorly planned, most with only one entrance (escape!) road….3 story cabins literally on top of each other. There are no enforced set-back requirements. Most restrictive covenants actually prohibit the clearing of a “defensive perimeter”, as the cabin renters prefer the “natural look and view”. The owners and the City choose to allow UnFireSafe development right up to the boundary of the park knowing full well what the parks fire suppression policy is. And guess what’s coming behind the destroyed cabin communities? 4-story cabins on top of each other….

    1. “Gatlinburg Resident”

      It’s tough to decide where to begin to reply to your accusations and statements, some of which are dubious and erroneous.

      –You used the term “you” when referring to statements that appeared in more than one article, on more than one web site, and that were made by multiple people. That is very confusing and misleading.

      –You said:

      You have failed to consider the ignition sources for the majority of the acreage burned outside the park….wind-downed power lines and transformers.

      Where is your evidence to support this? Has a trained and qualified cause and origin investigator made this determination? Take a look at the map, which shows a fire driven to the north by a wind out of the south gusting well over 50 mph.

      –You said:

      Hot Shot Crews, while the “supermen” of the fire trade, will not insert themselves into an area where they have no escape route

      I was not on the ground at the fire, but as a wildland firefighter for 33 years, with five of them being on southern California Hotshot Crews, I know that they can be very skilled at finding a safe and efficient strategy for suppressing a 1.5 acre fire, especially if given several days. This fire, from the photos I have seen, appeared to be confined to the top of Chimney Tops during the first few days. Downhill escape routes are preferred by firefighters.

      –I did not mention cost as being a factor in the lack of suppression on this fire. You implied that because Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not charge an entrance fee, that affected decisions on how to suppress or not suppress this fire. Wildfires in the National Park Service are funded through national accounts, not local funds appropriated for individual parks. So assigning helicopters and Hotshot Crews to the fire beginning on day #2 would not have affected the park’s ability to buy toilet paper or anything else.

    2. Dear Gatlinburg resident. I am sorry for all those who lost their properties and those who lost friends and families. Having been in the wildfire suppression business for five decades I thought (as did many of my colleges) that Wildfire Today and Mr. Don Jacob did a exemplary report. Hot Shot crew and Smokejumpers; last thing you want to tell them “it can’t be done.” The Chimney 2 fire was just another day at work for wild land fire fighters. Sounds simple, aircraft drop water, crews/engines move in to contain and extinguish. In the summer this scenario is repeated dozens of times daily in the West. Based on the drought index, predicted weather and Thanksgiving; somewhere along the Park Service communication line something didn’t get processed.

  12. Let it burn is a fine policy, when conditions allow it. In this case, conditions clearly didn’t, but it’s easy to judge in hindsight. For the Southeast, it’s a wake-up call. Both the weather conditions and the forest vegetation (dead hemlocks, firs, ashes, etc.) have changed, and that has to be taken into account by decision makers. I can’t imagine that anyone will allow this to happen again.

    1. Excellent points, Miz [southern for Ms.] LaCourse. I couldn’t imagine anyone allowing this to happen again after Yellowstone. And where the west is dry all summer, the east usually has rain. Not 2016, however. And the hills and mountains had a lot of wildfires. What happened in Gatlinburg was criminal on more than one level.
      After the problems in the west in recent years with wildfires, now the s.e. was in the same situation with drought, the park service needs to be brought to justice for the decisions made.
      As to Gatlinburg, they should take a page from the Sierra Nevada communities on building codes. Hardy board and other cement board sidings don’t burn. Tile roofs don’t burn. These materials come in “wood” looks. Contact Tahoe National Forest, Nevada City, California for information on safety in building and planning fire safe (as you can get) neighborhoods. No, that’s not the f.s.’s job, but they can direct anyone wanting information to the best possible sources.

  13. A number of interesting comments and views. Wildfire can be just so damn unpredictable at times. Little fires becoming big and big fires becoming little.

  14. In regard to the Knoxville News Sentinel article by Don Jacobs and an apparent press release statement by the Deputy Superintendent of GSMNP:

    ” There was no way the fire could have been extinguished before the winds came.” Jordan says.

    My question to the Deputy Super: If the Chimney Tops Fire 2 of Nov 23rd to 28th, 2016 could not have been extinguished before the winds came; and there was plenty of time to act before the winds came; then how come GSMNP fire crews apparently extinguished the first Chimney Tops Fire of Nov 12/13th, 2016? It appears that the Deputy has contradicted himself here. NPS can suppress the first fire; but not the second fire? This makes no logical sense. I believe someone else may have mentioned this in other Wildfire Today article/comments?

    I would like to express that there are sincere and dedicated folks working for the National Park Service. They strive to their utmost and have a true passion working in GSMNP. All my constructive criticisms are not targeted to Park personnel in general. For the most part, the issues are with the Upper Brass.

    Tommy

  15. Regarding the following passage reported in the Knoxville News Sentinel article:
    “Much to our surprise, it had spotted across Newfound Gap Road to Bullhead Ridge a half mile to a mile away,” Jordan said.

    “Our fire manager has never seen fire spot that far. It was unheard of around here.”

    Take note that in their wildfire case study report on the 1965 Hellgate Fire (George Washington National Forest) that D.F. Taylor and D.T. Williams (1967. USDA Forest Service Research Paper SE-29) reported spotting up to 0.56 miles.

    Marty Alexander, PhD, RPF
    Wild Rose Fire Behaviour, Leduc County, Alberta

  16. To not aggressively attack a fire knowing that 60 m.p.h winds were coming in the worst recorded drought of our lifetime is insanity . And not to have any monitors is criminal. They did the same thing here in the Cohutta Wilderness. A 10 acre fire they claim started from lightening even though we hadn’t had a storm in two months and it was a beautiful blue sky that day since I live her is just depressing. They clearly lie at will and don’t give a damn. Well that 10 acre fire burned all 35,000 acres of the Cohutta Wilderness yet we were lucky compared to Gatlinburg. For the argument that it is healthy and burns the excess fuel is bunk. I’ve hiked backed there since it reopened and the fuel it burned will be right back in less than a year once the leaves fall.

  17. Melinda, I’m sure Jerry and or Sid will address these questions on backfire:

    The National Park Service ignited backfires to protect Park structures such as the Bud Ogle Cabin, Twin Creeks, and other structures, etc. Backfiring is used to halt or redirect the path of wildfire by burning up all the fuels in its path. A more defined term is:
    Backfire
    A fire set along the inner edge of a fireline to consume the fuel in the path of a wildfire and to change the direction or force of the fire’s convection column.

    Backfiring has been used to protect human structures/homes; yet can get out of control and has been know to destroy homes, such was the case with the NPS in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

    So there are some very legitimate questions regrading the ignition of these NPS backfires?

    What were the wind speeds when NPS crews ignited these backfires to protect NPS structures; and if they ignited fire on the 28th when the winds were getting stronger and stronger, would the potential exist for backfire embers to get out of control?

    Would it be wise to implement backfire with such strong winds forecasted on top of exceptional drought and fuels?

    Did these NPS backfires change the direction of the fire’s path?

    Was backfiring ignited behind/near Sugarlands housing & maintenance; and did this backfiring contribute to, or create the fire that traversed up Ski Mountain and the by-pass areas?

    Did these NPS backfires “get out of control” and create new fires?

    If the NPS backfires were not ignited on the 28th; then they had to be ignited on the 27th – a day before the fire broke out. If that was the case, then they had to be fully aware that the fire was going to come down the mountain and burn not only NPS structures, but Gatlinburg structures as well?

    With that said: were NPS officials aggressive enough in seriously emphasizing to Gatlinburg officials to start preparing for mandatory evacuations?

    Can fire experts examine burned areas and decipher the path of natural wildfire from managed ignited fires?

    Here is a question & answer from Bill interviewing Tom Nichols on Wildfire Today:

    “One of the more common errors in judgment you have seen on fires?
    Suppression actions, especially backfires, causing way more damage to natural resources than the wildfire is doing.”

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