NPS releases information about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire

The fire burned from Great Smoky Mountains National Park into Gatlinburg, Tennessee November 28.

Chimney Tops 2 Fire August 27, 2016

Above: Chimney Tops 2 Fire November 27, 2016. Photo by Brett Bevill.

On December 13 the National Park Service delivered a verbal statement and released two documents about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire.

The fire killed 14 people and destroyed 2,013 homes and 53 commercial structures. An additional 244 homes were damaged.

At a news conference on Tuesday Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan read a 13 minute statement covering the day by day events from the time the fire was ignited by teenaged arsonists on November 23 to when it burned into Gatlinburg on November 28.

Mr. Jordan said, “On Saturday [November 27 two days before the fire burned into Gatlinburg] we requested a four-day near-term analysis from the U.S. Forest Service at the Rocky Mountain Research Station.” He went on to say, “Their analysis modeled low fire growth downhill over the next couple of days as the fire approached the containment boundary. This analysis did not forecast the behavior the fire generated on Monday.”

Mr. Jordan said Monday morning, November 29, spot fires created by lofted burning embers had occurred “as far as one-half to a mile from the main fire burning on Chimney Top.”

He concluded his presentation by saying:

We believe there is no way we could have controlled this fire prior to the wind event. The reality is we believe there is no number of firefighters or fire engines that could have stopped the spread of this fire in such extreme wind conditions.

We will continue to explore lessons learned from this incident and we appreciate the outpouring of support and resources that we have received from across the nation to help us fight this fire.

Below is a video recording of Mr. Jordan’s statement.

The documents released included a chronology and a .pdf of a presentation featuring maps. The presentation, a very large document, can be downloaded from Google Drive.

The chronology does not contain much more information than the analysis we published on December 5, 2016.

The presentation has a map showing the location of 911 calls, which is interesting.

911 calls gatlinburg fire
911 calls up to 10 a.m. November 29, 2016. From the NPS presentation.

From our interviews with people associated with the fire and the information released yesterday, it is clear that no action was taken by ground-based firefighters to actively suppress or stop the spread of the fire until Sunday, November 27, four days after the fire started. The activity that day involved constructing fire line and improving the natural boundaries of containment lines about half a mile away from the fire.

The chronology document released on December 13 implied that three large Type 1 helicopters dropped water on the fire “throughout the day” on Sunday November 27. But the information we obtained, which was confirmed by Mr. Jordan’s presentation yesterday, showed that the drops only occurred in the afternoon. This was the first time any direct suppression occurred on the fire up to that point.

That afternoon a Chinook Type 1 helicopter began dropping water on the fire, refilling at Fontana Lake 13 miles to the southwest, according to a source we talked to who didn’t want their name disclosed because they were not authorized to speak on the subject. The helicopter worked until it had to refuel and then two other Type 1 helicopters took its place until dark. Sunset that day was at 5:21 p.m. which would have allowed them to drop on the fire until 5:51 p.m., 30 minutes after sunset. This 26-mile round trip to refill with water greatly reduced the amount of water delivered to the fire, compared to how much could have been dropped if a closer water source had been used.

During the previous four days no nearby helicopter water sources were identified or created. Often on structure and wildland fires portable, collapsable water tanks are quickly set up for engines or helicopters to draft from or dip into with their buckets. Some of the larger tanks, such as the Heliwell, can hold almost 15,000 gallons. These tanks can be kept full if connected to a fire hydrant or filled with a water tender shuttle.

heliwell helicopter
A Heliwell tank used to refill the helicopter bucket on the Red Canyon Fire July 9, 2016 in the Black Hills. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

If a good water source had been created or identified on day two of the fire and helicopters had been ordered then instead of day five, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water could have been dropped on the fire in the four days before the wind increased on Monday, November 28.

Aircraft dropping water or fire retardant on a fire cannot put it out. However, if huge amounts of water are applied to a relatively small fire in a “wash the fire off the hill” approach, it can have a very positive effect.

Under normal circumstances limited amounts of liquids dropped from the air can be most effective if firefighters on the ground can move in quickly to take advantage of the short term change in fire behavior by constructing firelines, stopping the spread at that location. In this case, there were no firefighters in a position to take direct action.

For two weeks in numerous documents and presentations the NPS has been saying that wind gusts up to 87 mph were recorded at the Cove Mountain weather station 8 miles northwest of the fire’s origin and 4.5 miles west of downtown Gatlinburg. We have been attempting to obtain a copy of the data recorded by that station before it shut down at about 9 p.m. on November 28 when it lost electrical power. On December 15 we were told by GRSM spokesperson Dana Soehn that the data will not be released for at least two to three months because it has to go through a quality control process by multiple agencies. So in other words, they are not sure the data is accurate, but are very comfortable cherry picking one number and repeating it over and over.

However, weather data from numerous other stations is readily available.

At 2 a.m. Monday November 28, the day the fire burned into Gatlinburg, the wind speeds recorded at the Indian Grave weather station 18 miles west of the fire began increasing and the direction became more consistently out of the south and southwest. Until 1 p.m. sustained speeds were 4 to 6 mph with gusts at 12 to 19 mph. Between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. they increased to 7 to 15 mph with gusts of 22 to 32 mph — all generally out of the south, blowing toward Gatlinburg. From 7 p.m. until midnight sustained winds were at 13 to 17 mph with gusts from 34 to 49.

This data from Indian Grave was not very different from the forecast issued the day before, Sunday November 27 at 7:29 a.m. That Spot Forecast, specifically for the fire area, predicted strong winds all day on Monday — at 7 a.m. 12 mph gusting to 25 and increasing throughout the day to 20 mph gusting to 40 by 6 p.m.

We were not able to find a Spot Forecast for the fire that was requested or issued on Monday, November 28.

The highest wind speeds reported by the National Weather Service’s Local Storm Report Information system in that part of Tennessee on November 28 were gusts of 56 and 60 mph in Bradley and Sevier Counties, respectively.

Below is a copy of the Spot Weather Forecast issued at 7:20 a.m. Sunday November 27, 2016, and following that, data from the Indian Grave weather station:

Spot weather forecast Chimney Tops 2 fire Spot weather forecast Chimney Tops 2 fire

Below are the records from the Indian Grave weather station for November 27 and 28:

indian grave weather station data


indian grave weather station data

We published a more complete analysis of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire on December 5.

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

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Daniel.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

37 thoughts on “NPS releases information about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire”

  1. Bill;

    I think your complete analysis is spot on. A lack of recognition of oncoming wx parameters caused a tragic set of unnecessary circumstances in Sevier County. The small fire should have been “washed off the mtn” days before the passage of the front. There were more than 40 aircraft in the three state area assigned to other fires. Due to some moisture and active fire suppression on those fires the aircraft were not totally committed, and therefore available to the NPS. Winds also affected these fires, but none escaped due to effective suppression management and recognition that the front, “wind event” was coming. I recognize that Monday Morning QBing is easy to do, but as a wildland fire incident management team member with type I qualifications, as well as FBAN training I feel that I can respond and support your accurate analysis. I live in western NC about 45 miles from Sevier County. What happened needlessly to those fine folks is a travesty, and those with their fingers in that decision making process should be held accountable.
    Very much appreciate and enjoy your blog efforts. Please continue to do what you do!!

  2. I don’t subscribe to the notion that dropping thousands of gallons of water on a fire with no ground support is more effective than any other alternative strategy. Why weren’t firefighters put on the ground to go direct with the water drops? Was it too risky? If so, then it’s just as risky for the pilots to expose themselves all day long in the hope that the fire will slow down. Burning debris can become dislodged and roll down starting spot fires, not to mention the enormous number of other hazards associated with this practice. Perhaps better modeling could have given them some better alternatives. As hopefully we all know, wind overrides everything.

    1. Jeff, fire pilots are like rodeo clowns, you know the risk but still get back in the arena. You are now the Chimney Top 2 I.C. with 8 acres wind event coming. You know that if the fire blows-out thousands of people will be put in harms way. What should the I.A.P reflect. “wind overrides everything,” so true.

  3. A handful of R5 firefighters and overhead were on another fire outside of Newport, TN when the Chimney Fire made its big run. Winds on our fire were strong enough to send solid columns of leaves shooting up every drainage. Fortunately we received rain shortly after the wind event began. We watched the Chimney fire go from a small glow on the horizon to lighting up the whole valley. We could see it chewing up several drainages and cresting multiple ridges and spotting well ahead of itself. Winds caused trees in the area to be snapped off, power lines downed, telephone and cell service limited. Good interagency radio communication seems non existent in that part of the world and most work was being conducted over cell phones. Actions taken or omitted before fire made its run I can’t speak to because we weren’t there. The day the fire ran into Gatlingburg and Pigeon Forge it was already too late and no amount of resources would have made a difference. From one man’s perspective a more aggressive IA program, pre attack planning on a landscape scale, an integrated communication system where all the players can talk to each other, and increased fed firefighter capacity with appropriate equipment and personnel would have greatly improved the ability to react and respond to emerging incidents like Chimney. Hopefully the good folks in R8 will come out of this with an updated package of knowledge, skills, equipment, and personnel to tackle the foreseeable increase in fire occurrence and fire behavior within their region and nationally as well.

  4. This site is vital and Bill does an excellent job to bring forth news and opinion for our 1st Amendment Rights. The majority of news media are classic for either suppressing the truth or presenting only half truths or bias views. Bill has taken the step himself and to allow folks to question our government here. Without this stance, we might as well go back to the Dark Ages.

    I stand corrected for my comment on “Analyzing the fire that burned into Gatlinburg”; I wasn’t aware that the NPS apparently conducted fuel reduction burns adjacent to the Ski Mountain area of Gatlinburg (not officially confirmed). I forgot to mention that they have conducted “minimal” woodland burns west of Cades Cove and in the Cataloochee Valley. With the exception of the apparent Ski Mountain burn, the Cades Cove and Cataloohee burns are more so backcountry areas and not adjacent to gateway communities.

    Ironically, besides dead-fall wood from dying trees, the under-story in some areas of the Park are being dominated by small pine trees and saplings. The Park Service has positively stressed pine regeneration for some areas of the Park. With that said, under-story pines during an exceptional drought could be powerful ignition sources. This pine succession can create problems in the future, be it prescribed burns or God forbid – wildfire. Of course, the severity of burning is still the determining factor as to how intense the fire will be. Though I’m not a forester and have minimal experience in wildfire/prescribe burns, the basics of forestry hold true.

    Most folks may not realize the seriousness of un-managed timber in parks like the Great Smokies. For example, in the Cades Cove area of the Park, the woodlands have years of thick duff and the under-story is literally dominated by numerous dead-fall trees and pine saplings. Walking in the woodlands is hazardous; one can expect a pair of boots to take a beating in a short amount of time from the endless sharp woody debris (dead-fall twigs/limbs). If moderate to high severity fire ever unfolds in these woodlands, the effects could be devastating for mast producing hardwoods (oaks, hickories, etc.) where the tree root systems are burned out. In turn, black bears, deer, and turkeys will struggle for nutrition if these particular trees die.

    One reason the Park was formed was to prevent excessive logging practices that can be destructive to forest wilderness. In time, the very trees that NPS seeks to preserve are now in a pendulum of life or death. Fire ecology has replaced the chainsaw; and yet fire/forestry management at times is touchy balance itself. Periodically managers miss the mark and end up Playing God with catastrophic results. Maybe it is time for the NPS to reevaluate their policies and in some cases; find alternatives to very moderately remove timber with out fire; create breaks with open fields and corridors which will also supply better nutrition for wildlife during the spring and summer months.

    It would be interesting what Teddy Roosevelt would have to say about the current environmentalism dictating our national parks. Based on his conservation background, I think he would be appalled with certain NPS practices.

    Despite what the Park Service claims about Chimneys Fire, the link here clearly shows that the NPS has been fully aware of the potential of wildfire adversely threatening gateway communities. This topic is also addressed in their manual. They even took the steps to help reduce fuels in areas of the Park near communities with smaller developments than Gatlinburg:

    So, it isn’t like “tiny” efforts haven’t been made to address 80 to 90 years of dying trees and excessive under-story. So, my question to officials and NPS fire managers: since the GSMNP has been fully aware of the high potential for wildfire adversely effecting nearby communities; then why wasn’t more aggressive action taken when the Chimney Tops 2 Fire started. Why not immediately call up air support to damper the fire?

    Although the North Carolina reporter may have been offensive, she had a point. Who “dropped the ball” is simply a term for negligence. Of course, local folks were upset at the timing of her questioning. True; and yet, what a precise moment to confront both State and Federal officials on camera. Of course, if officials follow the typical routine they are known for; then we as a people will continue to be entertained by a bureaucratic horse and pony show.

    Tommy Kirkland

    1. I wasn’t aware that the NPS apparently conducted fuel reduction burns adjacent to the Ski Mountain area of Gatlinburg (not officially confirmed)…When did this happen?

    2. Tommy, I live on Ski Mountain. I have not seen any signs of or notices for any controlled burns around Ski Mountain. I do know that there was controlled burns in some fields in Cades Cove in Sept/Oct.

  5. To quote one of my professional fire service career mentors Gordon Graham: “If it is predictable, it is preventable” I believe key GRSM NP and Sevier County government decision making officials have never listened or attended Gordon Graham’s risk management or similar training seminar–The 2016 Chimney Top 2 wildfire incident was a predictable and preventable federal wildland fire management failure. Government officials must be held accountable for The Chimney Top 2 incident management failures as well as the alleged incident’s two juvenile arsonists. To be continued…….

    1. Amen; I totally agree with you on this. As a former federal employee, I saw firsthand how the NPS usually worked fire in R8 and it was with the attitude to let it burn to get more fire money. Additionally, NPS firefighters, on staff, are usually loosely trained and have little experience offsite; hence, limited knowledge.

      Winds in the Appalachian mountains area the week the fire began had already been high; and every firefighter in the area knew of the tinder dry conditions. As one person stated, the NPS needs to wake up and change their fire mantras of leaving trees where they fall and not clearing out areas rife with Southern Pine Beetle deadfall, etc. lastly, the two teens are not the only ones who share the responsibility of this fire: GRSM needs to be indicted as well.

  6. Nowhere in the Chimney Tops 2 Fire Summary does it mention when the NPS called for evacuations to take place in Gatlinburg or surrounding communities… Or did I just miss it?

    1. Per the park superintendent, the NPS has no authority to call for evacuations outside of the park boundaries. That falls on the Sevier county officials who were lax in my opinion.

  7. Planning or not….Directives or not…..practices in place or not……nothing was going to stop the wind behind this fire. Even with a small fire where plenty of water has been applied….once the embers create spot overs in these kinds of conditions it is off to the races. No amount of resources can compete with wind!
    Former Florida fire fighters now living in WNC…….everyone in the field knew the winds were bad and the drought was setting us up for something of this magnitude. You dont need a wind reading to see that.

    1. I agree, Yvonne, but again, the wind forecasts were in, and on SACC’s website, the amount of resources GRSM had on the fire were few. They played the game like inexperienced wild land firefighters and someone should have called for more resources much earlier.

  8. The stakes were incredible high on this one. We will never know if delivering copious amount of water by aircraft two days prior to the wind event would have made a difference on this small fire. As an I.C. on two inaccessible (really inaccessible) fires TWENTY years apart the only option I had was helicopter bucket work. Both were lighting fires on the lower one third of the slope, not much slope only cliffs and benches. There was no way that direct mineral containment lines could be put in. The fires were about six and twenty acres? No type three helicopters, only type 2 s initially awaiting for the type ones. The larger fire, (high stakes) was burning in a river canyon (Stanislaus) with several communities about a mile (crow flies) above. I still remember coming from Redding was Columbia Helicopters Chinook 234 Charlie Hotel, thanks again. O’yes the fires were extinguished by aircraft. only.

  9. Again–A classic Swiss Cheese risk management failure–too many holes were in alignment. Aggressive, over whelming IA from the air and the ground while the fire is small (less than 5 acres) is essential during drought conditions. Folks–look at the early stage of the fire photos provided by the NPS–the smoke column is standing straight up–no winds. They all start small so “hit em hard hit em small” Johnny Coldwater is correct–washing it off the mountain has been used effectively in both the East and West wildfires during IA–not a preferred strategy and tactic but it is a” tool in the tool box” especially in steep difficult terrain and fuels. There is also a trail to the fires moutain top origin–hoselay option?, ATV access? Even Type 3 copter bucket drops would slow the fire down–but the bucket’s water source to fire turnaround times need to be in the 3-8 minute range–A Type 3 bucket can easily fill from a VFD’s 2000 gallon folda-tank supplied by water tenders (tankers back East) Even a SEAT drop or two during IA would have helped slow the fire down while backing down the mountain’s peak.”Do not fool with Mother Nature!”–she will always win if given time

  10. I’m not sure; thought I saw it on a comment with this site or maybe another site, possibly the social sites connected to the fire. We may have downlaoded it? I’ll see if I can locate it again. Can check with the Park Service as well sometime this week to see if this is just social hear-say or not. Tommy

  11. Daniel,

    In following up to your question: here is a little more info. The initial source I took apparently generalized the area, mentioning Ski Mountain. The minimal reduction was apparently more so along the Gatlinburg by-pass which is basically part of Ski Mountain. This reduction was apparently conducted in 2003. I’ve also linked this PDF paste below in quotations: Here again, all this shows that GSMNP officials were fully aware of the high potential for wildfire to impact gateway communities like Gatlinburg. So they can’t claim ignorance. They have known for quite sometime how much fuel has been building up. I can put in a request for more info on this particular reduction in 2003; yet they are not fond of me and have been known to delay FOIA requests in the past.

    Depending on how the two juveniles are charged will determine if lawyers can bring in other parties such as the NPS. Let’s hope officials are not influencing the DA on this one. Simply, a lighter sentence and standard arson charges for the defendants means that officials will dodge the bullet for their role in this fire. From my understanding, only if the DA moves for more serious charges like homicide can other agencies and individuals come into play? Anyway, hope this info below helps.


    “Great Smoky Mountains National Park — The park completed its largest prescribed burn (1,034
    acres) about a mile west of Cades Cove. The burn
    was intended to help the recovery of yellow pine in
    an area where the tree was once a predominate species.
    Five prescribed fires were used to treat a total
    of 1,352 acres in forestlands and grasslands.
    Additionally, the park finished two hazard fuels
    reduction projects. Slash piles were successfully
    burned in January within the Gatlinburg Bypass
    project to reduce the potential of a wildfire that
    might escape the park into the Gatlinburg area.
    A similar project was completed in the Ace Gap area near Townsend, Tennessee. The project was completed on schedule and with positive feedback from park neighbors.”

  12. I’m wondering Sunday night they had nobody watching the fire, and that is exactly when it magically jumped fire and went 1.5 miles. How can anyone rule or determine it wasn’t arson so quickly?

  13. Just got home from a week vacation, so trying to catch up a bit on this. Great reading from all you knowledgeable people. Thanks much. Glad to hear at least a few of you believe water drops can dampen or extinguish a 1.5 acre slowly expanding fire. Maybe not the standard procedure but I would venture to guess this was not the standard fire in terms of location. Started in a high tourist area of the park at the end of a two mile trail off of a major highway maybe ten miles upwind from a city with no break in the forest in-between.

    Of course all the officials involved are public officials so every press conference is just a bunch of CYA and patting each other on the back for a job well done. No one will be held accountable for their actions or lack of actions. A bit off topic but the worst offenders are the Sevier County mayor and fire chief of Gatlinburg when it comes to reasons for loss of life.

  14. If anyone can help me I got about 8 minutes of audio I need help deciphering. For example long latitude has 3 different coordinates PLEASE EMAIL ME
    Thank you,
    Dan Andrews
    Society of Environmental Journalists

  15. There is some serious Monday morning quarterbacking going on here, both in the comments as well as the article. We all want, and need to learn from events like this, but pointing fingers and second guessing professional fire managers decisions helps no one. From what I saw on this fire actions were based on current and expected fire behavior as they should be. All the modeling in the world cannot always predict actual weather events and fire behavior. I certainly do not agree with those folks who think the risk should have been passed to aviation personnel when it was decided it was too dangerous to put boots on the ground. It was a tragic event, and one for the history books. We should all try to learn something from it without passing blame.

  16. I would like to thank Bill for a well written presentation of the facts, and for the list of thought filled comments that has followed. If taken in a vacuum no blame can be assessed except for the fire starters in this case. But it is the 21 century, and we do not live in a vacuum. To simply say that public safety officials should just walk away from this with lessons learned, and not hold anyone in the decision making process accountable would be totally irresponsible. 14 civilian lives were lost, hundreds of millions of dollars of property and goods were damaged or forever destroyed, people put their trust in those officials and waited for answers and help that never came. All of those deaths directly lead back to persons in positions of responsibilities that collectively made poor decisions for whatever reasons. Economics, loss of revenue, under qualified, over confident, uneducated in wild fire management, obsessed with fire fighter safety, or misinformed to unfolding events, someone outside of the fire starters are accountable. To say no one should Monday Morning QB this fire is totally inconceivable. Twenty years ago the facts would have been available months later in some bureaucratic document, available by review at invitation only. Local accounts would have been just that, kept local, and we all would have used this in our next “Wild Fire Training” or “EMA” class of “What Not Too Do”, lessons learned. But this 2016 and this fire unveiled itself minute by minute with live streaming information almost as it was started. Experts from all sides had a clear view of this unfolding situation, locals knew the dangers, tourists provided up-to-date streaming pictures, but local, state, and NP officials elected to treat this fire in a vacuum. Experts trained in high risk wild fires saw the danger in this fire, Emergency Management Experts saw the danger to Gatlinburg, Weather Experts saw the dangerous high wind system developing. But the world watched on YouTube as local, state, and NP officials decided to do nothing until it was too late. Too late to call in experts that knew about these types of wild fires and conditions, too late to start aggressive fire suppression, too late to build an adequate fire break while the fire was manageable, too late to order pre and immediate evacuation orders, too late to try an all-call phone message as a last second attempt to cover for their errors, too late to save 14 innocent lives. This goes way past the walk-away point and Monday Morning QB, this goes to culpable liability questions, not to be laid at the feet of the fire starters, but to all involved from local, state, and NP

    1. Very well stated, and I couldn’t have summed it up so succinctly. As a former federal worker who performed functions within overhead, even WE were taught about accountability! And you are right: in this day and time, with the news being posted minute by minute, all of us who have worked dangerous fires were waiting, wondering, “WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO REACT?” I was in Colorado when two tanker pilots crashed; then later, three firefighters, maybe four or five, crashed their vehicle, driving after putting in over 16 hours. My point? Rules…we in the fire community knew or know the rules; and they are there for a reason. Take responsibility; get your head out of the, uh, sand, and act~

    2. S. Chase, you read my mind. Thanks for expressing my same thoughts in such a complete and well written manner. I’m so tired of hearing the mayor of Sevier County waste 80% of every “news” conference just patting all his cohorts on the back and saying what a great job everyone is doing and how no one could have predicted this “perfect storm”, no Monday morning QB allowed, don’t ask questions since we can’t answer even the basic ones, blah, blah, blah. Of course these are all government employees so no one will be held accountable. At best just a bunch of passing the buck.

  17. I could not agree anymore what S Chase has already clearly stated. This tragedy is about poor incident management accountability. Yes I am mad and I am pointing fingers. After thirty-five years in both state and federal fire management-fire department services as a Chief Officer–I was held accountable for my professional decisions. Fires destroyed property and natural resources during On my watch. I never made an incident decision that killed or seriously injured either civilians or firefighters–that is our job and it has inherent risks. “Do not fool with Mother Nature”

  18. FDsp and BC Kurtz.
    I am honored with your responses.
    Thank You for your comments, having been in emergency services, emergency management and emergency communication for over 38 years, this tragedy goes against every professional fiber I have learned, or have taken away from a lifetime of experiences. God Bless the Boots-On-The-Ground, and local civilians that had to endure such inconceivable management.
    S. Chase

  19. We all have a moral and professional obligations to not let this tragedy wind up as another Lesson Learned document gathering dust on a shelf, archive box or in some computer file. Bill Gabbert–I can not thank-you and other individuals who have accumulated vast wildland fire and/or incident management knowledge and experience expressing your concerns regarding the decisions made during the Initial Attack of the Chimney Top 2. The facts are the facts as Bill has laboriously provided. We–“the customer”– must make government emergency service personnel accountable for poor incident decision making. We owe that much to the fourteen civilians whom died during this tragedy–to be continued!!

  20. Melinda,

    Thank you for your observations from Ski Mountain. My response to you tends to get off the subject; yet I was intending to do this in the future, so here it is.

    I could only reference what the NPS had posted on the web and did not request a FOIA. In reality, their efforts to minimize excessive fuels has been minimal and isn’t even realistic now – being the pines and hemlocks have been dying at a rapid rate. They should have been “managing” for issues like this decades ago; but the NPS has taken the wilderness approach – partly influenced by special interest groups and extreme environmental ideologies regarding timber, under-story, etc.

    Though I’m not finished; my initial observations in one particular locale of the fire shows that the bark was completely burned off the base of rhododendrons. Various mature hardwood trees have been burned all the way around the trunks from roughly 2 to 3 feet in height. This brings into question if the cambium layer of the tree bark has been adversely impacted by the fire’s intensity/severity? Though I’m not a forester, if so, then these particular trees could very well die. What the people of America really need is a non-bias forester to investigate/assess; and one not affiliated with this upcoming government inter-agency.

    I will convey that a small flock of turkeys came through the burned area. They were “skinny” and did not have the body weight that turkeys normally do. I’ve been professionally photographing free-ranging turkeys for years to know without a doubt when birds are struggling for nutrition. There is no doubt in my mind that these turkeys are not obtaining adequate nutrition. This indicates that the fire in this particular locale may have been more devastating than indicated by the NPS and bias media.

    My observations in Cades Cove during NPS prescribed burns have consistently shown that whitetail deer did not flee for their lives. Though the herds in the Cove may be somewhat conditioned to prescribed burns, they have maintained their home ranges during burns – only fleeing to avoid direct flames – not smoke inhalation.

    Though there are numerous variations to how wildlife responds to fire, there is a question as to whether the bear/deer populations in the fire’s path evacuated prior to the winds rolling the flames down the mountain. If not, then undoubtedly, more than one bear/deer died in the fire.
    Though I do personally advocate the ethical control of wildlife populations when needed, wildfire started by man and timber mismanagement isn’t the answer.

    Time will tell whether this fire benefits the land or devastates the environment to the point that recovery is SLOW. Although the local media and NPS associates have boasted about wildlife returning to the burned areas, that doesn’t mean adequate nutrition is available to sustain life. A bear was seen amid the charred ground, turkeys foraging for grub, and even deer. However, the question remains unanswered, is there enough natural forage to sustain life. I don’t see it now, even with the rain and warmer temperatures since the fire.

    There has been some green up at 1,100 feet with this brief period of warmth. The fire locale I’ve looked at is roughly 2000 to 2500 feet and NO green-up whatsoever at this point and time. 1,100 feet isn’t that much of difference not to produce some-type of green up. There should be something? This brings into question once again if the fire’s severity did more damage than good?

    In 2006, a youngster was fatally mauled and apparently consumed by a black bear near the Chilhowee Campground of the Cherokee National Forest. As to whether the bear was food conditioned and that contributed to the attack; one thing that can’t be denied is earlier in the spring, the USFS conducted a prescribed burn in the immediate vicinity. Most of the time, if prescribed burns are done correctly and timed with rain, wildlife benefits; but not immediately. It takes a little time for vegetative regeneration.

    It is highly likely that this particular bear wasn’t obtaining adequate nutrition due to the burn. With that said, lack of nutrition can force an animal to seek other food sources; and though some folks have a hard time accepting the reality that bears do periodically consume humans for survival, it is my opinion this bear was partially driven to a predatory state of behavior due to the prescribed burn temporarily robbing the vegetative food sources.

    The Chimney Tops Fire has temporarily robbed natural food sources for wildlife. In the process of rejuvenation, wildlife is going to either migrate else where or perish. In the meantime, let’s hope black bears and other wildlife finds adequate nutrition to sustain themselves; and God forbid, avoid human habitation and people.

    There is no doubt that some small game suffered in this fire as well as insects, aquatic, and amphibian life. Big game is more likely to survive than other species; but NOT all. Though speculative, in reality, more black bears should be sited and reported. Unless available sources are not on my radar, I’m not hearing or seeing much on this subject. Typically, the lands below LeConte have historically been known to sustain a healthy density of black bears. Where are the bears? Below is link to an official report of one black bear apparently dying in the fire.

    Here again, even if a good number of bears survived the fire, their future survival will be NUTRITION. If folks are truly honest with themselves, including NPS managers and officials, they can’t deny that adequate nutrition will be an issue for all species that were in the path of this fire.

    Wild hogs are ravaging the Park. To some degree, food sources for native wildlife are being robbed; and water sources can become infected by parasites from hogs. The evidence out weighs the cherry picking numbers given by officials. They’ve been addressed about allowing folks to use social media to try and raise more money to aggressively eliminate these destructive beasts. The request fell upon deaf ears. Timber is dying. Oak trees are in a pendulum for survival – the stable for bear, deer, and turkey. Is the Park managing wildlife and nutrition to the fullest extent available? NO. Their polices of vegetative and timber management fall short in comparison to other agencies and wildlife managers abroad.

    They plead with Park visitors not to feed the wildlife. TRUE. Though the NPS is correct to stop people from feeding wildlife, a practice all too common on Ski Mountain; the Park itself is not managing the resources to where good natural food sources are available. Even though bears are opportunistic and will periodically go searching for food and handouts from visitors; if nutrition is inadequate, big game will undoubtedly leave Park boundaries in search for adequate nutrition.

    So the next time visitors are correctly chided for feeding wildlife, the Park Service itself should also chide themselves for expecting black bears to survive off limited natural foods due to mismanagement; and remind themselves that they have literally contributed to the current plight of wildlife in the Park – fire or no fire. May the Almighty not only Judge, but bring restoration to His Creation amid this inferno that has not only impacted the wildlife, but the people of Sevier County as well (Romans 8: 19 to 21).

    Tommy Kirkland

    1. Just returned from visiting GSMNP last week. We saw over 30 bears in and around the Park. We saw three Mama bears with 4 Cubs, several with 3 Cubs. All looked extremely healthy. We are photographers and visit 3-4 times a year and have for 34 years. We saw many healthy turkeys but not as many deer as we usually see. We stay near Roaring Fork where there was extensive damage in fact most homes and cabins near where we stay are gone.
      My husband is a fire investigator though not an expert on wildfires has always said that all of the fallen timber left on the ground would provide plenty of fuel if there was a fire. We have wondered if there were other arsonists besides the boys on Chimney Tops? At the time of the fires, we heard of other people in and around Gatlinburg, Cobbly Knob & Sevierville who were starting fires with matches. We have heard nothing since then about additional arsonists. Cades Cove is very different than the areas around Gatlinburg, I would think that animals in the Cove are more used to people and less likely to flee.
      Please remember that there were many wildfires in TN, NC, SC, and GA during this time. I was heartsick watching these events unfold from Ohio. I would like to know why early reports of other fires being started have just disappeared

  21. Jani,

    Oddly there has been no media talk from any sources about the 1st Chimney Tops Fire of Nov 13/14th, 2016; and as to who and why this fire might have been started. It was near the 2nd Fire which was apparently ignited on the 28th. I live locally and have observed wildlife during prescribed burns in the Cove. Though wildlife will flee from direct flames, they typically just circle; and eventually return to the areas burned as long as nutrition is adequate. Smoke inhalation could have negatively impacted bears that did not leave the path of the Chimneys Fire; but animals seem much more tolerable of smoke than humans. The reason for seeing so many bears is hunting and poaching has diminished somewhat in comparison to the past. Also, the NPS needs good PR relations right now due to all the criticism of how they handled the fire. With that said, it appears that some bears are not being aversive conditioned to avoid people – simply allowing them to habituate to some degree for visitor observation. At times, the NPS aggressively implements negative conditioning depending on a host of circumstances.


    1. My mistake, the 2nd Fire was ignited on the 23rd, Wednesday of Nov 2016. Fire came into Gatlinburg on the 28th.

  22. Thanks, Tommy Kirkland…we love GSMNP and plan to move to the area in a couple years so I was obsessed with what was happening. We have met many locals there during our visits who were keeping me updated also. We were actually supposed to be visiting for that week but our son had major surgery so we stayed in Ohio…
    The “rumors” were that people were starting fires in other areas like Cobbly Knob and near Dollywood which were not part of the Chimney Tops 2 wildfire. I know we read that the Cobbly Knob fire was a separate investigation-wish I could recall where I found that info.
    Where we stay is next to Roaring Fork Motor Trail and the burnt trees and fallen trees are everywhere. I think that in the Park and even in the neighborhoods, these trees should be removed since they are basically kindling.
    Most of the rhododendron and undergrowth is burnt in Roaring Fork and surrounding area. It just breaks my heart to see the devastation. We visited in February and in late May, the damage is still very visible.

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