Photo gallery for the three-day, three-fire road trip

Earlier today we wrote about the three-day, three-fire, three-state road trip where a group of us boarded a very comfortable bus, or coach, and toured the sites of three large fires that occurred last fall in North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Here are some photos, taken by Bill Gabbert. If you click on a photo, you’ll see larger versions.  The captions are in the top-left.

Three-day road trip: visiting three fires that burned last year in the Southeast

Three days, three states, three fires.

Above: Fire Management Officer Jeff Schardt talks about managing the Rough Ridge Fire.

I had never heard of a organized multi-day road trip that involved visiting several large fires that burned in previous years, so when the Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists (CAFMS) distributed notices about one I was very interested. Their plans were to spend about a half day each at three fires in three states over a three-day period. The fires occurred last fall in North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Since they were pretty far apart the remaining half days were devoted to traveling in a bus (or coach) to the sites. At each location we would meet with local subject matter experts that would explain how the fires were managed, the effects on the natural resources, and the social issues.

So I signed up.

The expedition was primarily organized by two folks from the CAFMS, the director Helen Mohr, and Jenifer Bunty, their Public Information Coordinator.

Ms. Mohr is a researcher that has been working with the USFS’ Southern Research Station until recently when she was selected as Director for the CAFSM, and said she now spends most of her time with that organization.

Ms. Bunty has bachelor’s degrees in biology and Russian, obtained a master’s in biology, has conducted research in the Russian Far East, and has worked for the Southern Blue Ridge Fire Learning Network. She is now working remotely for the CAFSM from China (yes, that China), but commuted to the Southeast for this road trip.

There were approximately 12 to 15 people that were on the journey for all three days, but at each stop others joined to talk about or learn about that particular fire. At the Rough Ridge Fire two or three dozen students from Clemson University’s forestry summer camp joined us.

I posted a gallery of photos taken on the trip.

Day 1 of the Road Trip, June 6, the Party Rock Fire

This fire started November 5, 2016 and blackened about 7,100 acres mostly in Chimney Rock State Park at Lake Lure in western North Carolina.

We met the first day at 8 a.m. in Flat Rock, North Carolina where we boarded the coach for a 30-minute trip to Lake Lure and heard presentations by the officials from Chimney Rock State Park and the mayors of Lake Lure and Chimney Rock Village. They discussed the effects on their populations, the evacuations, and the suppression of the fire.

Then after viewing the fire in the distance from a viewpoint, the group began a strenuous hike to a point called Party Rock, up a very steep washed out abandoned logging road — 2.4 miles round trip with a 1,500-foot elevation gain. After lunch and various discussions about fire effects, five hours later we reboarded the thankfully air conditioned coach.

Party Rock Fire
The group takes a break for lunch at Party Rock, on the Party Rock Fire.

In another two hours we were at a motel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

More information about the Party Rock Fire can be found at Wildfire Today and Inciweb.

Day 2 of the Road Trip, June 7, the Chimney Tops 2 Fire 

The Chimney Tops 2 Fire started in southeast Tennessee November 23, 2016 inside Smoky Mountains National Park and six days burned into Gatlinburg killing 14 people, forcing 14,000 to evacuate, destroying or damaging 2,400 structures, and blackening 17,000 acres.

A short drive that morning took us to a turnout on US Highway 441 where the Park’s Fire Management Officer Greg Salansky told us about the first six days of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire. Later at different locations we heard a talk by Fire Ecologist Rob Klein about fire effects on vegetation, and Jessica Giacomini and Cory Blair presented information about the effects on animals.

Chimney Tops 2 Fire
Fire Management Officer Greg Salansky tells the group about the first days of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire.

Ms. Giacomini said of the 50 black bears in the park that have radio collars, 20 of them were in the fire area at the time. All of those survived, but two that were not collared died; one was found dead and the other had to be euthanized due to its serious injuries. She said the collared bears hunkered down and remained in the fire area as it burned. This will provide a very rare opportunity, she said, to find out what bears do before, during, and after a wildfire.

That day the group viewed the burned area from several different vantage points, hiked the Cove Mountain Trail, and heard from Emily Snider of UNC and Joe O’Brien of the USFS about various fire intensities, the effects on Table Mountain Pine, and delayed mortality of the overstory.

The day ended with a 2.5 hour coach ride to Dalton, Georgia.

More information: Mr. Salansky’s presentation to the group; general coverage of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Wildfire Today, and Inciweb.

Day 3 of the Road Trip, June 8, the Rough Ridge Fire 

The Rough Ridge Fire started on October 16, 2016 in the Cohutta Wilderness of northern Georgia and burned almost 28,000 acres in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.

A 30-minute coach ride took us from Dalton, Georgia to the Conasauga Ranger Station in Chatsworth where we heard from District Fire Management Officer Jeff Schardt.

This was the location where we were joined by two to three dozen forestry students from Clemson. After the initial presentation at the District Office, we all got back into our coach and the vans the students traveled in, and the convoy visited several sites in the footprint of the fire.

Areas treated with prescribed fire over the years were taken advantage of in several locations around the perimeter, and the group saw some of the effects of those projects. The reduction in fuel lowered the fire intensity and served as logical points at which to stop the fire.

Karen Larson, Recreation Program Manager on the District, told the group about issues related to managing a fire in a federal wilderness area, and how the decisions were made initially about suppression tactics.

District Biologist Ruth Stokes covered the impacts on animals. She said bats are migratory and had already left for their hibernation sites in caves. The fire may have destroyed some den trees that bears like, but the fire probably created quite a few more.

Ms. Stokes said that some fish were killed along several miles of the Conasauga River on the northwestern fire perimeter. The exact cause is not certain, but they think it may have been a result of ash deposition in the water. That area, she said, was heavily impacted by smoke. Fire retardant dropped by aircraft was not used in that area.

More information about the Rough Ridge Fire: Wildfire Today and Inciweb.

Summary

At all three fire sites we were told that access was extremely difficult and that issue had a very significant effect on the selection of suppression alternatives and the ultimate size and duration of the fires.

This is the first multi-day, multi-fire organized road trip that I am aware of. Depending on your interests, if there are ever any more you might find it as interesting as I did. Unfortunately, when someone asked Ms. Mohr, the director of CAFMS, if she would organize more in the future, her very quick answer was, “No”.

I found the 3-day road trip very interesting and worthwhile, and hope the CAFMS and other groups conduct more.

A much shorter trip on the other side of the country occurred today, planned by Utah State University and billed as the “Second Annual Wildland Fire Tour”, a six-hour event south of Tooele, Utah. The topic was mechanical treatments such as mastication. There was no indication that they would tour a prescribed or wildland fire. It was live-streamed; I watched a few minutes of it but it looked like it was filmed with a cell phone and the wind noise on the mic made it very difficult to hear the speaker. The group was using a nifty portable PA system that appeared to have a hand-held wireless mic. I could not tell if the speaker/amp, about the size of a carry-on suitcase, was battery powered or if there was a power cord that I could not see.

Five of the most active wildfires in the South

Above: Three fires were generating the smoke detected by a satellite on November 27: Rock Mountain, Camp Branch, and Pinnacle Mountain Fires.

The wildfire activity in the southern states has slowed a bit over the last few days. The day before Thanksgiving there were about 4,100 personnel assigned to fires in the area. By Saturday that number had decreased to 3,400.

The smoke generated by fires that has plagued residents for weeks has also diminished considerably. Today’s satellite photo, above, only shows three fires that are creating enough smoke to be seen from hundreds of miles overhead. These are the Rock Mountain (Georgia and North Carolina), Camp Branch (North Carolina), and Pinnacle Mountain Fires (South Carolina).

Just five fires in the Southern Geographic Area reported size increases on Saturday — a major change from recent weeks.

Rock Mountain Fire

The Rock Mountain Fire in Georgia and North Carolina grew by 2,578 acres in the last 48 hours and now has covered 20,647 acres, which is considered huge in this part of the country. It has spread to within 4 miles of Otto, NC and 4 miles of Dillard, GA. The fire was mapped Saturday by Colorado’s MultiMission Aircraft. Firefighters reported active surface spread in hardwood leaf litter in all directions, aspects and elevations on Saturday. Where it was not impacted by suppression it spread for half a mile. About 130 structures are threatened.

Camp Branch Fire

The 1,483-acre Camp Branch Fire is 9 miles west of Franklin, NC, an increase of 120 acres over the previous report. About 113 personnel are assigned to this fire which currently threatens 140 structures. On Saturday firefighters successfully conducted burnout operations on the northwest and southeast sides.

Pinnacle Mountain Fire

The Pinnacle Mountain Fire in Table Rock State Park added 217 acres Saturday to bring the total up to 9,147 acres. It is in northwest South Carolina 9 miles south of Brevard, North Carolina. The incident management team reports that 255 personnel are assigned and 1,133 structures are threatened. A burnout operation on Saturday brought the perimeter to the containment lines on the west and north sides of the fire.

map Rock Mountain, Camp Branch, and Pinnacle Mountain Fires
Map showing the perimeters of the Rock Mountain, Camp Branch, and Pinnacle Mountain Fires.

OTHER FIRES

Clear Creek Fire

The Clear Creek Fire is 7 miles northwest of Marion, NC. I has burned 2,986 acres, an increase of 363 acres. About 352 structures are reported to be threatened. The fire is staffed by 489 personnel.

Mount Pleasant Fire

The Mount Pleasant Fire, 9 miles west of Buena Vista, Virginia has blackened 11,200 acres, an increase of 200. High humidity Friday night aided suppression efforts, but that was followed by strong winds on Saturday. Area road and trail closures, including part of the Appalachian Trail, are in effect. The fire has burned across the Appalachian Trail between Road 507 and Cow Camp Gap. The increase in acreage was the result of a large burnout operation on Saturday.

For the latest articles at Wildfire Today about how smoke from the wildfires is affecting various locations in the South, check out the articles tagged “smoke”.

Horton Fire causes evacuations southeast of Boone, NC

Above: The Horton Fire, as seen from the entrance to Blue Ridge Mountain Club at 5 p.m.November 22, 2016. Incident Management Team photo.

(UPDATED at 11:20 a.m. ET November 23, 2016)

The Horton Fire seven miles southeast of Boone, North Carolina was very active Tuesday night, continuing to spread to the east and southeast. It is burning on all sides of Dugger Mountain northeast of Joe’s Creek and has covered an estimated 761 acres as of Tuesday night.

No homes have been destroyed but 55 remain threatened. Firefighters are burning out fuels around structures in order to protect them.

Mandatory evacuations remain in effect near Watson Drive.

Fire managers expect the fire to grow to 1,500 acres on Wednesday . The weather forecast for the fire area calls for 54 degrees, 6 mph winds out of the south, 30 percent relative humidity, and partly cloudy skies. There is a 35 percent chance of rain Wednesday night, and conditions on Thursday will be more favorable for firefighters with the humidity in the 70s.

map Horton Fire
Map showing the perimeter of the Horton Fire at 11:30 pm ET November 22, 2016.
Horton Fire
Burnout along Sampson Road on the Horton Fire, November 22, 2016. Incident Management Team photo.

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(Originally published at 6:27 p.m. ET November 22, 2016)

A fire that started Monday evening seven miles southeast of Boone, North Carolina is forcing some residents to evacuate. By Tuesday afternoon, according to the incident management team, the Horton Fire had burned 700 to 800 acres.

The fire is burning in steep, heavily wooded country, and is threatening 55 homes six miles east of Blowing Rock, NC.

The weather in the fire area on Wednesday is predicted to be moderate for fire behavior — partly cloudy with a 5 mph wind out of the south and 53 degrees, but the relative humidity will be fairly low, bottoming out at 31 percent. There is a slight chance of precipitation Wednesday night. The relative humidity will be high on Thursday– 75 percent.

For the latest articles at Wildfire Today about how smoke from the wildfires is affecting various locations in the South, check out the articles tagged “smoke”.

Progress made on some wildfires in the South, while others still grow

Above: Firefighters operate leaf blowers on the Chestnut Knob Fire. The fire is 6 miles south of Morganton, NC and at the last report grew by 9 acres. Undated and  uncredited InciWeb photo.

While several large fires in the southern states are still actively spreading, firefighters have made progress on dozens of others.

On Monday the Southern Geographic Area reported 52 large uncontained fires, for a total of 133,146 acres. There were 185 new fires of all sizes for 1,477 acres; most of those were suppressed while still small. That was considered “moderate” initial attack activity.

Firefighting resources assigned in the South:

  • 78 aircraft
  • 83 hand crews
  • 1,011 pieces of equipment
  • 4,476 personnel
map wildfires south
Map showing the location of some of the large fires in the southern states. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:22 am November 21, 2016.

On Sunday evening four fires reported 24-hour growth of more than 100 acres:

Rock Mountain Fire

Map Rock Mountain Fire
Map of the perimeter of the Rock Mountain Fire at 6 p.m. ET November 20, 2016.

The Rock Mountain Fire that started about 10 miles northwest of Clayton Georgia has spread north into North Carolina. At the last report it had burned 11,287 acres, an increase of 862 acres. On Sunday it was very active, moving through the hardwood leaf litter in all directions at a rate of about one mile each day. Evacuations are still in place for Dream Catcher Cove north of Tate City, Georgia.

On Saturday strong winds pushed the blaze across the Appalachian Trail on the north end of the fire. Winds blowing leaves still falling from trees are creating problems for firefighters, covering existing firelines and causing some areas to re-burn.

East Miller Cove

The East Miller Cove Fire is just east of Walland, Tennessee, 16 miles south of Knoxville. On Sunday evening the incident management team reported it had burned 1,492 acres, an increase of 1,292 acres, threatening 100 structures north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Big Branch

The Big Branch Fire is in southeast Kentucky three miles south of Roxana and five miles northeast of Cumberland. It has burned 625 acres, an increase of 175 acres.

Oakwood 1 Fire

This fire is in Arkansas, listed at 468 acres, an increase of 278. No other information is available.

Chestnut Knob Fire
A firefighter on the Chestnut Knob Fire. InciWeb.

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For the latest articles at Wildfire Today about how smoke from the wildfires is affecting various locations in the South, check out the articles tagged “smoke”.

North Carolina to receive the worst of the smoke on Friday

Above: Forecast for wildfire smoke at 6 p.m. ET November 18, 2016. Created at 1 a.m. ET November 18, 2016.

Most of the eastern one-third of the United States will be experiencing some degree of wildfire smoke on Friday. But by far the heaviest concentrations are being created by the wildfires in the South. The winds on Friday will cause the much of the smoke to pass through areas in western Tennessee, northern Georgia, and western North Carolina.

Forecast for wildfire smoke at 1 p.m. ET November 18, 2016, created at 6:30 a.m. ET November 18, 2016.
Forecast for wildfire smoke at 1 p.m. ET November 18, 2016, created at 6:30 a.m. ET November 18, 2016.

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