Wildfire prompts evacuations southwest of Pigeon Forge, TN

The blaze is being pushed by strong winds

6:32 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Map, Hatcher Mountain Fire, 126 p.m. ET march 31, 2022
The red icons represent heat detected on the Hatcher Mountain Fire by satellites as late as 1:26 p.m. ET March 31, 2022.

The Sevier County Emergency Management said at about 3:10 p.m. Thursday that the evacuation area would be reduced shortly. You can type an address at the top-right on the page to see if it is affected.

A mandatory evacuation was ordered Thursday afternoon for Smoky Ridge Way off Wears Valley Road due to increased fire activity.

At 5:15 p.m. ET Thursday fire officials said the Hatcher Mountain/Indigo Lane fire was 3,700 acres and approximately 100 structures had been affected — the same numbers distributed in the 10 a.m. briefing.

Helicopters have been dropping water on the fire since early Thursday morning.

A reporter with WVLT got photos of some of the five pieces of fire apparatus that fire officials said were damaged on the Hatcher Mountain Fire northwest of Gatlinburg, Tennessee yesterday.


10:17 a.m. ET March 31, 2022

Indigo Lane Fire March 30, 2022
Indigo Lane Fire March 30, 2022. Image by @WVLTPat.

In a 10 a.m. briefing on Thursday officials said the wildfire southwest of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, which is being referred to as the Indigo Lane Fire and Hatcher Mountain Fire, has burned 3,700 acres and “affected 100 structures.” Five fire apparatus vehicles were damaged.

The blaze is in the Wears Valley community of Sevier County six miles northwest of Gatlinburg.

In addition to local fire departments, resources have responded from 70 agencies in Middle and Upper East Tennessee as well as the Tennessee National Guard and the U.S. Forest Service. Two incident management teams are on the scene, an interagency team and a state team.

The Sevierville Convention Center, at 202 Gists Creek Road in Sevierville, is open as an evacuation shelter for persons displaced by the fire.

As the strong weather system moved through the area Wednesday night the weather station at Cove Mountain recorded winds out of the south-southeast and south with sustained speeds of 38 mph at midnight. The relative humidity rose from a low of 16 percent Wednesday afternoon to 92 percent at 6 a.m. Thursday. Less than 1/10 inch of rain fell at that station and another at Pigeon Forge. At 9 a.m. Thursday the wind at Cove Mountain was 21 mph from the south-southwest with 81 percent RH.

The spot weather forecast from the National Weather Service Thursday morning predicts mostly sunny skies with a slight chance of scattered sprinkles late in the morning, minimum RH of 45 percent, and southwest winds 9 to 14 mph with gusts to
around 30 mph.

Continue reading “Wildfire prompts evacuations southwest of Pigeon Forge, TN”

Great Smoky Mountains NP completes two prescribed fires

Near Wears Valley and Cades Cove

Prescribed fire in Great Smoky Mountains NP
Prescribed fire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, March 9, 2021. NPS photo.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park successfully completed a 175-acre prescribed burn along a half-mile of the park boundary in Wears Valley on Tuesday, March 9. The objective of the project was to reduce the amount of flammable vegetation along the park’s boundary near homes, as well as maintaining an open woodland habitat for drought-tolerant trees like oak and pine.

“The wildland fire specialists did an outstanding job planning, prepping, and executing this prescribed burn in an ongoing effort to help communities along our boundary to create Firewise space between their homes and parklands,” said Chief Ranger Lisa Hendy.

Crews established a 3,000-ft hose lay for added protection around homes at the top of the ridge and along the boundary before implementing the prescribed burn. A small test burn was conducted to confirm fire behavior before the prescribed fire was allowed to burn slowly down the slope towards Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area. As expected, smoke was visible throughout the operations across the Wears Valley area.

Flame lengths and fire behavior were within prescription throughout the operations as the low-intensity fire backed down the slope over a six-hour period until the burn reached the natural and manmade control lines at the bottom. Crews remained on scene overnight and continued to staff the area for several days to check control lines and monitor fire activity.

Crews from the Cherokee National Forest, Bureau of Indian Affairs in Cherokee, Townsend Volunteer Fire Department, Pittman Center Volunteer Fire Department, Waldens Creek Volunteer Fire Department, The Nature Conservancy, AmeriCorp, and employees from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Congaree National Park, and Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park provided assistance throughout the burn operations including site preparation and post-burn monitoring.

In preparation for the prescribed burn operation, crews spent several days clearing brush and leaf litter along the park boundary and Indian Camp Branch, which successfully served as fire control lines to keep the fire within its planned boundaries. The 175-acre unit was bounded by Wear Cove Gap Road, Indian Camp Branch, Little River, and the park boundary along Roundtop Trail.

In February the park conducted a prescribed burn in the Cades Cove area, 90 acres in the Rowans Branch unit along Sparks Lane and 338 acres of the Primitive Baptist Church unit along Hyatt Lane.

Prescribed fire in Great Smoky Mountains NP
Prescribed burn in the Cades Cove area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. NPS photo.

Seven National Park Service employees tested positive for coronavirus

One of them works at Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is in Tennessee & North Carolina

Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
File photo of a portion of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Bill Gabbert, June 7, 2017. During the week of March 22, 2020 one employee at the park tested positive for the coronavirus.

At least seven employees of the National Park Service have tested positive for the coronavirus, or COVID-19. During the week of March 22 the superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park said an employee there tested positive for the virus. The park on the Tennessee/North Carolina border was closed to the public on March 24, but many NPS sites remain open but have closed their visitor centers.

From the Washington Post, March 31, 2020:

In response to questions from The Washington Post, the agency said Tuesday that as of Monday, seven Park Service employees have tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. That figure, which had not been previously reported, doesn’t include workers in the park who are not federal employees. “The NPS is working with our contractors and concessionaires to track reported cases of their employees as well,” Stephanie Roulett, a spokeswoman, wrote in an email.

The Park Service, a division of the Interior Department, will not identify where the affected employees are to protect their identities The infections came to light in a Wednesday teleconference when Park Service Director David Vela told workers, “this week, sadly, we received word of the first confirmed cases of NPS employees with covid-19.”

At Grand Canyon National Park, which drew large crowds over the weekend and remains open, park employees were informed Monday that a resident in the park’s housing complex on the South Rim has tested positive.

Roulett said no Park Service employee at Grand Canyon has been diagnosed with covid-19. Officials in Coconino County, which includes the park, have asked it to be shut down.

Our take:

These seven NPS employees could be only the tip of the iceburg since such a small segment of the population in the United States has been tested for the virus. The essential service of fighting wildland fires cannot be carried out safely without making it mandatory for all firefighters to be tested, and on a regular basis. Symptoms of the disease only show up several days after the initial infection, but during that time the virus can spread to others. Without testing, fires may have to be left to burn, or just fought with air tankers and helicopters. Dispatching untested crews and incident management teams of firefighters when it is almost certain that some are shedding the virus, is dangerous and unethical.

In 2017 over 8,000 personnel were assigned to the Thomas Fire in southern California near Ventura.

More than 40 insurance companies sue government over fire that burned into Gatlinburg

Chimney Tops 2 Fire Gatlinburg tennessee
Chimney Tops 2 Fire at 9:37 p.m. November 28, 2016 after it burned into Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Photo credit: Sevierville Police Department.

More than 40 insurance companies are suing the federal government for $450 million over how the fire that burned into Gatlinburg, Tennessee in 2016 was handled, the Knox News is reporting.

Five days after it started in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on November 23 the Chimney Tops 2 Fire spread into the eastern Tennessee city killing 14 people, forcing 14,000 to evacuate, destroying or damaging 2,400 structures, and blackening 17,000 acres.

The strategy used to manage the fire was controversial in that very little direct action was taken to suppress the fire during those first five days until a predicted wind event caused it to spread very rapidly out of the park and into the city.

Below is an excerpt from an article at the Knox News:

The lawsuits blame the devastation on National Park Service officials. Fire managers violated their own policies, the complaints state, when they opted to let the blaze burn amid prolonged drought and forecasted high winds, then failed to monitor it or warn residents of the danger it posed.

The lawsuits single out Greg Salansky, the park’s fire management officer who first spotted smoke coming from the park’s Chimney Tops peaks on Nov. 23, 2016. Salansky didn’t attack the roughly acre-sized fire directly, didn’t dig containment lines initially and waited four days to order water drops by airplane and helicopter.

Earlier drops, the complaints read, could have easily extinguished the fire when it spanned just an acre and a half.

Instead, Salansky opted to try to contain the fire inside a 410-acre box in hopes of coming rain. He briefed higher-ups at the park, according to the complaints, but made no significant progress in containing the fire. It didn’t help that most of the fire crew’s staff was on vacation due to the holiday. No one called them in.

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

The National Park Service assembled an eight-person team to review the management of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire. Participants represented the NPS, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Boone Fire Department in North Carolina, plus a Technical Writer-Editor. It was led by Joe Stutler, of the USFS, who is qualified as a Type 1 Incident Commander and Area Commander, positions at the pinnacle of the incident management structure.

Gatlinburg fire report Joe Stutler
On August 31, 2017 Joe Stutler presented information from the report about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire that burned into Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

In a press conference when the report was released, Mr. Stutler began by saying the report was intended to not place blame on anyone, and would “avoid should have, could have, and would have, statements that frankly inhibit sensemaking and also inhibit continuing to learn from the event.”

Describing the actions taken or not taken on the fire, he said, “the review team found no evidence of negligence of anyone at the park. They did the very best they could when it came to their duty. They did the very best they could based on what was loaded in their hard drive”, he said as he pointed to his head. “Never in the history of this park or even in the surrounding area”, Mr. Stutler said, “had anyone seen the combination of severe drought, fire on the landscape, and an extreme wind event” occurring at the same time.

Combined with a wildland/urban interface, it was the “perfect storm”, he explained. The review team concluded that the fire management officials did not see the potential for the low-frequency, high-risk event.

The 116-page report had a brief summary of its findings:

“The review team concluded that a lack of wildland fire preparedness during a period of drought conditions favorable to wildfires overwhelmed National Park Service response to the CT2 fire. Though the review team concluded that the firefighting decisions made by the personnel involved were commensurate within their knowledge and experience in fighting wildland fires in the region, this report recommends enhanced preparedness and fire planning based on fire-conditions assessments, and adherence to the National Park Service wildland fire program and policies. These recommendations will likely enhance the capability of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to respond to a wildfire event with similar or greater fire weather conditions in the future.”

The report made recommendations, including:

  • Revise the park’s fire management plan to reflect more aggressive strategies and tactics during extreme fire weather conditions.
  • Expand communications capacity to allow interoperability with responders outside the federal system.
  • The Fire Management Officer should be supervised by a single individual, not two.
  • Since no Red Flag Warnings were issued around the time of the fire, evaluate current Red Flag Warning and advisory criteria to reflect conditions experienced during the 2016 fire season.
  • The National Park Service leadership should embrace and institute change to create wildland fire management organizations that have the capacity and resilience to meet the realities of this “new normal” fire behavior.
  • Institute formal fire management officer and agency administrator mentoring and/or development programs.

(The article was edited on December 7, 2019 to show that Joe Stutler is currently working for the U.S. Forest Service.)

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bob. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Little Tujunga Hotshots spotted in Tennessee

Little Tujunga Hotshots eastern Tennessee
Little Tujunga Hotshots in eastern Tennessee. Screenshot from WJHL video.

The Little Tujunga Hotshots are about 2,000 miles away from their southern California home on the Angeles National Forest. The crew is staged on the Cherokee National Forest in eastern Tennessee due to the high wildland fire danger in the area.

Dolly Parton’s foundation gives $200,000 to fire departments affected by 2016 Gatlinburg wildfires

Dolly Parton donation fire departments
L to R: Pete Kilman, Marvin Rolen, Tim Baker, John Satterfield, Heidi Satterfield, Dolly Parton, Joe Fields, Stephen Walley, Chris Young, Tony Patty, John Linsenbigler. Photo: Curtis Hilbun.

About 48 hours after the Chimney Tops 2 Fire spread from Great Smoky Mountains National Park into Gatlinburg, Tennessee November 28, 2016 burning 2,400 structures and 17,000 acres, country music artist Dolly Parton established the My People Fund.

In the weeks and months that followed, the fund provided $1,000 each month for six months to Sevier County families whose homes were uninhabitable or were completely destroyed in that fire and a few others that burned at the same. Any family that lost their primary residence (renters and homeowners) due to the wildfires in the county were eligible. Thanks to a tremendous outpouring of donations, the final distribution checks were $5,000 per family.

As if that were not enough, Ms. Parton continued with the generosity on March 16, 2019 when she met with the Fire Chiefs of the fire departments in Sevier County. In recognition of their roles in fighting the fires of 2016, the My People Fund donated the remaining dollars in the account — $20,000 to each volunteer fire department and $40,000 to their area training center.