The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Update: Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials postpone controlled burn in Wears Cove to reduce wildfire fuel

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Park service postpones 175-acre controlled burn

Citing low humidity and dry conditions, park officials postponed the planned burn until at least Tuesday along the park boundary in Wears Valley in the Metcalf Bottoms area. Another burn is planned near Sparks Lane in Cades Cove later in the week, depending on weather conditions.

The original story is below:

Park managers plan a controlled burn along the park boundary in Wears Cove starting Monday. Don’t freak if you see heavy smoke in the area. March is an opportune time to conduct controlled burns for hazardous debris removal and habitat improvement in the interface between rural habitation and protected natural areas.

Fire prevention practices have become more widespread in Great Smoky Mountains National Park since a devastating and deadly November 2016 wildfire that spread into populated areas of Gatlinburg and Sevier County.

Here’s the straight skinny from the park service, per a release:

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Appalachian-Piedmont-Coastal Zone fire management staff plan to conduct a 175-acre prescribed burn along the park boundary in Wears Valley to the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area.  The burn will take place between Monday, March 8 through Thursday, March 11, depending on weather. Prescribed burn operations are expected to take two days.  

A National Park Service (NPS) crew of wildland fire specialists will conduct the prescribed burn to reduce the amount of flammable brush along the park’s boundary with residential homes. This unit was burned successfully in 2009 and is part of a multi-year plan to reduce flammable materials along the park boundary with residential areas.  

“A long-term goal of this project is to maintain fire and drought tolerant trees like oak and pine on upper slopes and ridges in the park,” said Fire Ecologist Rob Klein. “Open woodlands of oak and pine provide habitat for a diverse set of plants and animals, and the health of these sites benefits from frequent, low-intensity burning.”

The planned burn area is bounded by Wear Cove Gap Road, Indian Camp Branch, Little River, and the park boundary along Roundtop Trail. In preparation for the burn, NPS staff have been clearing brush and leaf litter along the park boundary and Indian Camp Branch, which will serve as fire control lines to keep the fire within its planned boundaries. Resources from the US Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and local fire departments in Blount and Sevier Counties will provide assistance throughout the burn operations. 

Closures for firefighter and public safety include Wear Cove Gap Road from the Metcalf Bottoms bridge to the park boundary at Wear Cove Gap, a section of Roundtop Trail, and Little Brier Gap Trail parking area. Staff will be on site to provide limited traffic access to residents as needed. Visitors and residents should expect to see smoke in the area.   

If operations proceed as planned, the crew may shift operations to Cades Cove later in the week to complete prescribed burn operations along Sparks Lane for the 90-acre Rowans Branch unit. An update will be provided if the crew adds this unit to the schedule next week. For more information about this burn unit, please visit the park website at www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/news/park-plans-cades-cove-prescribed-burn-for-thursday-february-25.htm.”

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