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East Tennessee fire updates: Wears Valley, Seymour, GSMNP [April 2022]

Last week, multiple fires were reported throughout the Smokies. Areas affected included Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

While most of these fires have since been either extinguished or largely contained, fire danger – due to dry conditions and increased winds – remains extremely high.

No burn permits have been issued throughout the region. Locals and visitors alike are being asked to refrain from any open burning as the increased winds could cause even a small fire to grow out of control quickly.

Details about last week’s fires can be found below.

helicopter assists with water drops at wears valley fire
Helicopters assist with water drops in Wears Valley on March 30, 2022 (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

1. The Wears Valley fire in East TN

2,498 acre Wears Valley fire at 100% containment

Last Update: April 6, 2022 6:12 pm

Sevier County officials are now saying that the Wears Valley fire (also referred to as the “Hatcher Mountain Road/Indigo Lane Fire”) is now 100% contained.

Original affected acreage projections were also reduced from over 3,700 to 2,498 burned with approximately 219 structures impacted.

On Wednesday morning, March 30, 2022, officials with the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) reported a fire near Hatcher Mountain Road and Indigo Lane in the Wears Valley community.

What started out as a brushfire was quickly upgraded to a forest fire after multiple structure fires were reported in the area.

By 9 pm later that night, The Tennessee Department of Agriculture reported that the fire had grown to encompass 1,000 acres.

The video below was shot in the Walden’s Ridge area of Walden’s Creek overnight by local firefighter Tom Lucas. Lucas works for the Sevierville Fire Department but was volunteering for the Waldens Creek Volunteer Fire Department when he captured the footage.

Evacuations were ordered for the affected areas. Those evacuation areas grew overnight as crews continued to battle flames.

The following morning, Thursday, March 31, Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters held a press conference during which he reported that the fire had grown to 3,700 acres.

By 5:30 pm, the Sevier County EMA reported that the fire remained at 3,700 acres in size at a 30% containment. The burn acreage was later reduced to 2,498.

At the time of this writing, the fire is now reportedly 100% contained.

2. The Dupont fire in Seymour, TN (Millstone Gap Rd)

Dupont fire covers 959 acres at 100% containment

Last Update: April 7, 2022 4:38 pm

Last week, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture reported that crews were working on a fire off of Millstone Gap Road near the Blount County/Sevier County line.

Sevier County officials say that the fire was mostly located in a remote area near the county line.

The burn radius spanned nearly 959 acres and the fire, at the time of this writing, is 100% contained.

Two structures were affected.

Air support for the Thomas Divide fire
Air support efforts were able to resume at the Thomas Divide fire on March 28 after being shut down due to wind speeds (photo provided by the National Park Service)

3. The Thomas Divide Complex fires in NC

Thomas Divide fires cover 941 acres at 80% containment

Last Update: April 1, 2022 2:00 pm

Additionally, firefighters, as well as multiple agencies, are working together to extinguish the Thomas Divide Complex fire in North Carolina that broke out on Saturday, March 26. The fire is located east of Bryson City, North Carolina.

A Unified Command Center is coordinating suppression efforts.

A press release issued on March 29 from the National Park Service stated the complex was comprised of two wildfires. These include the Stone Pile fire and the Cooper Creek fire.

On March 31, park officials reported that the fire had affected approximately 941 acres and was 80% contained.

The Southern Area Gold Incident Management Team has demobilized and several team members are now assisting with fire suppression efforts in Sevier County, along with several National Park Service staff. Approximately 20 firefighters remain on site to continue monitoring the area and to make any needed site repairs from fire suppression activity. 

On April 1, Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials reopened all roads, trails and backcountry campsites following closures put in place earlier this week.

4. Small Gatlinburg, TN brush fire contained overnight

Fire extinguished

Last Update: April 1, 2022 2:00 pm

A brush fire, spanning approximately one acre, started shortly before midnight on March 30 due to downed power lines.

Later that same morning, The Sevier County EMA announced that the fire had been extinguished.

An emergency shelter was established at Gatlinburg American Legion Building 1222 E. Parkway in Gatlinburg but that shelter has since closed.

Are fires normal in the Smoky Mountains?

The largest fire in recent years is often referred to as the Gatlinburg fire of 2016.

Two boys were charged with aggravated arson. However, the charges were later dropped.

Read Also: The real story behind the Gatlinburg fires of 2016

More recently, last February, another wildfire with high winds broke out near the Parkside Resort in Pigeon Forge.

Early images of the flames appeared to be disastrous, but the fire proved to be much easier to tame than before. Firefighters received aid from heavy rains that eventually extinguished the flames.

Just last week, there was yet another small fire near the park headquarters building on March 24, 2022.

The fire was located between the ranger station and the park maintenance yard.

Pigeon Forge Fire Department and Gatlinburg Fire Department initially responded for fire suppression efforts, and later transitioned oversight to park fire crews. Firefighters had the fire fully contained within a short period of time.

We encourage visitors to be on high alert and watch out for current wind conditions when visiting the Smokies.

fire at the Thomas Divide
An early morning view on March 28 of the Thomas Divide Complex fire (photo provided by the National Park Service)

When is wildfire season in TN?

According to tn.gov, there are typically two fire seasons. The spring fire season begins in mid-February and ends in mid-May, when the forest has “greened up”.

The fall fire season begins mid-October when the leaves begin to drop and ends in mid-December.

However, it’s important to note that wildland fires can occur year-round.

What causes a wildfire?

According to the NPS, nearly 85% of wildland fires in the U.S. are caused by humans.

These can result from unattended campfires, burning of debris, equipment malfunction, discarded cigarettes or intentional acts.

Wildfires may also be caused by nature. For example, a fire can be started by an unusually long-lasting hot lightning bolt.

A large wildfire broke out in February 2022 near Parkside Resort in Pigeon Forge, TN (photo courtesy of Holly Walker)

Controlled burns in the Smoky Mountains

Fire is one of the natural processes that some plants and animals depend on. Throughout the year, the NPS may prescribe controlled burns for small sections of the park.

These fires can help restore meadow habitats and maintain the landscape of the mountains.

Additionally, they reduce heavy accumulations of dead wood and brush. The clearing of old wood and brush helps prevent future catastrophic events.

Have you ever been affected by a wildfire in the mountains? Let us know in the comments below.

Soaky Mountain announces new coaster, expansions for 2022

Soaky Mountain Waterpark officials have just announced that they will be debuting a brand new ride for their 2022 season.

Soaky Mountain is Sevierville’s new landmark 50-acre waterpark. It originally opened in 2020 as part of the Wilderness Resorts and Waterparks family.

And at just two years old, they already have their eyes on expansions and upgrades to the park.

The latest announcement comes in the form of a new high-speed dueling water coaster. The coaster is set to debut in the summer of 2022.

Unlike traditional water slides, water coasters allow riders to travel both downhill and uphill. Water coasters usually are powered by a series of jets and a propulsion system.

This will be Soaky’s second water coaster. Their original, “Avalaunch, debuted in 2020.

The new coaster has been named “The Edge”.

“Our new water coaster, fittingly named, ‘The Edge’ is going to be a showstopper,” said Dave Andrews, general manager of Soaky Mountain Waterpark. “It will be perched on the edge of our waterpark, and span two football fields in length.”

“It’s fusing together WhiteWater’s Master Blaster water coaster with their iconic Boomerango. But, we are not adding just one slide, we are doubling it for a dueling thrill!”

A 70-foot tower will also be built to accommodate the new slides and ride queues.

Double tubes will be located on each side of the tower creating two “lanes” for riders to race.

Soaky Mountain is only two years old, but they are already making new rides and expansions to their park. The new coaster will have a dueling feature for double the fun (rendering courtesy of Soaky Mountain Waterpark)

What we know so far about the ride

Riders will be propelled down a three-story mega-drop that leads to the first valley. Then, they will be blasted uphill into a section featuring a kaleidoscope of colors.

Notably, Soaky Mountain is famous for their use of sunlight-powered color effects on their waterslides and tubes.

“Riders are sure to be mesmerized by the coaster’s AquaLucent rings designed into the tube segments,” adds Andrews.

“The distance between the rings will get closer and closer giving riders an appearance of acceleration.”

A second uphill blast takes riders into another enclosed tube segment. The inside of the tube features colorful, laser-like AquaLucent stripes.

The stripes start longer and then become shorter as the ride progresses. This special effect gives riders a sense of sci-fi speeds as they progress into another turn.

When the riders shoot out of the tube, they will see two imposing Boomerango walls before dropping to the base of the wall, feeling extreme Gs.

As the momentum takes the riders up the parallel walls, they will be able to see their competitor. They will also feel a sense of weightlessness before sliding back down.

Finally, riders go over a zero-G hump to the end of the ride.

The finish line will be stacked with lights and effects to indicate who won and who went over “The Edge”.

“The Boomerango is loved the world over, but our guests will be treated to a very special version of it that has never done before,” said Andrews.

“Our Boomerango walls are being designed to make the riders feel like they are going off the edge of the coaster. It is going to be spectacular.”

The new water coaster “The Edge” will span two football fields in length (rendering courtesy of Soaky Mountain Waterpark)

Also new for 2022 at Soaky Mountain

Finally, Soaky is also expanding the decking in two areas to create more lounging space for guests.

The expansion was inspired by guest recommendations.

The new decking will add 1,000 new seating options to the park.

Additionally, the waterpark is adding large umbrellas to increase shade.

Read Also: Soaky Mountain food menus: A list of snacks, treats

About Soaky Mountain Waterpark

Soaky has many exciting rides. For example, other attractions at Soaky Mountain include: 

  • Avalaunch, a watercoaster with four flying saucer features that create a drop-and-dive sensation and a wave curved wall. 
  • Soaky Surge, a massive, 35,000 square foot wave pool with 6-foot waves. 
  • Black Bear Rapids, a 24,000 square foot adventure river.
  • The Hive, a bee-themed play-and-spray feature with for younger children.
  • Boomers Bay, a kid activity pool area with smaller versions of the adult-size towering slides including Lil’ Rattlers and Mini Mayhem.
  • An Adventure Pool with a water obstacle course.
  • A 3,800 square foot flat-water cabana pool for relaxing poolside.
  • Hang 10essee, a double FlowRider®️ surfing simulator.

Other rides include two five-person raft rides, a tubing tower with five flumes, two high-intensity body slides and a four-lane head-first mat racing challenge.

Read Also: Soaky Mountain Waterpark slides and attractions: Your complete guide

Additionally, some of the slides feature translucent tubes which create a swirling array of light effects. Others are themed in colors like Rainbow’s Revenge and American Racer’s Rush.  

Season passes for 2022 are on sale now at SoakyMountainWaterPark.com

Soaky Mountain is located at 175 Gists Creek Road in Sevierville, Tenn.

Have you been to Soaky Mountain Waterpark? Are you brave enough to ride “The Edge” water coaster in 2022? Let us know in the comments below.