GSMNP

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.

10 things you didn’t know about Clingmans Dome

If you’ve ever heard of the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ve probably heard of Clingmans Dome.

Being the highest point in the most visited national park will grant you that kind of notoriety.

But with great fame comes great curiosity. Below we answer some of the most commonly asked questions about this iconic landmark to help you plan your visit.

1. What is Clingmans Dome?

Clingmans Dome is the tallest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a very popular park destination and offers one of the best views of the Smokies.

It also has an observation tower at its summit, which was built in 1959 as part of the Mission 66 program, an effort by the National Park Service (NPS) to attract more visitors to national parks.

At the top of the tower (on a clear day), guests can see a 360-degree view of the Smoky Mountains, spanning over 100 miles. It’s a great spot to watch sunrises and sunsets.

Clingmans Dome Visitors Center
The Clingmans Dome Visitor Center is located on the North Carolina side (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

2. Is Clingmans Dome in North Carolina or Tennessee? 

This is one of the most commonly asked questions about Clingmans Dome, and the answer might just surprise you.

Clingmans Dome is actually located along the state line, so half of it is in North Carolina and half is in Tennessee.

The visitor center is located on the North Carolina side.

3. How high is Clingmans Dome?

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 6,643 feet.

This makes it the highest peak in Tennessee and the third-highest point east of the Mississippi.

Mount Mitchell in North Carolina wins the title of the highest point east of the Mississippi, coming in at 6,684 feet.

Clingmans Dome
The walk to the top of the observation tower is a steep incline (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

4. How difficult is the Clingmans Dome hike?

Clingmans Dome Road, which is open from April through late November, offers the easiest way to get to the trailhead.

The road is a seven-mile drive and ends in a large parking area.

The parking lot can fill quickly, so arriving early is advisable.

From there, it’s a half-mile hike to the top of the observation tower. This hike is considered moderate in difficulty. The road is paved, but the incline is very steep. If you aren’t an avid hiker, prepare to take a couple of breaks to catch your breath.

Unfortunately, according to the NPS, the trail to the tower is too steep to be wheelchair accessible. Pets and bicycles are not permitted.

Of course, if you choose to hike to Clingmans Dome during the winter, the hike becomes much longer and more difficult, but it is also less crowded.

The popular Forney Ridge Trail is also found between Clingman’s Dome and Andrews Bald.

If you hike it in the winter, be prepared for snowy or icy conditions.

5. Is Clingmans Dome open year-round? 

Yes, Clingmans Dome is open year-round, including at night. Though the dome is open year-round, Clingmans Dome Road typically closes from December to late March and under certain weather conditions.

If you’re curious to see what the conditions are like at the top before you get there, you can always check out the live feed.

Click here to see the webcam.

6. Is Clingmans Dome free?

Clingmans Dome is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which means yes, it is free!

Why is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park free? You can thank us Tennesseans and our deep and abiding distrust of the federal government.

Read Also: Why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is free and others are not

A sign for the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

7. Is Clingmans Dome part of the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Trail crosses Clingmans Dome, marking the highest point along the 2,144-mile journey.

Save that little nugget of information for your next trivia night!

8. How is the drive to Clingmans Dome? 

Clingmans Dome Road is seven miles long and offers the most accessible way of accessing the tower (when it is open for the season).

The road is curvy but not terribly steep. If you are familiar with mountain roads, it will seem par for the course. It’s nothing like the Tail of the Dragon.

Read Also: 6 tips for riding The Dragon: The most dangerous, curvy highway in TN

A view from Clingmans Dome observation deck
The view from the top is especially good if you hike on a clear day (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

9. Why is it called Clingmans Dome?

According to “The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States”, the mountain was called Smoky Dome by American settlers until the late 1850s, when it was renamed after Confederate general, Senator Thomas Lanier Clingman.

Some sources claim that Clingman argued that Smoky Dome was the tallest in the region.

It was later determined that Mount Mitchell was about 40 feet taller.

Read Also: The controversy of Clingmans Dome: The observation tower that weathered the media storm

10. How is the weather at Clingmans Dome?

This, of course, is completely dependent on the time of year when you visit. But, keep in mind that precipitation and cold temperatures are very common at higher elevations.

In fact, temperatures at the top of the dome can easily be 10-20 degrees cooler than areas down below. According to the NPS, the cool, wet conditions on the summit make the spruce-fir forest that grows there a coniferous rainforest.

No matter when you’re visiting this observation tower, it’s smart to bring layers and a jacket and be prepared for any type of weather.

Bonus tip: There’s a secret tunnel below Clingmans Dome

Finally, did you know there’s a tunnel below Clingmans Dome that pre-dates the tower itself?

It’s a former hiker’s underpass most commonly known as the Thomas Divide Tunnel, but it is also occasionally referred to as the “Thomas Ridge Tunnel”, the “Old Mule Tunnel” or simply “The Hiker’s Tunnel”.

In the 1960s, the tunnel was cut off from the original trail, so you won’t happen upon it unless you’re looking for it. 

It’s no longer part of any regular path or hiking trail and simply leads to a cliff with a beautiful view where the other side of the trail once stood.

Read Also: The secret tunnel under Clingmans Dome you never knew existed

Have YOU hiked to the tallest point in the Smokies? Let us know in the comments!

View the web story version of this article here.