Fire officials in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park say many visitors have been surprised by number of trees still intact following recent wildfires that started in the Chimney Tops area of the park.
"A lot of folks are coming back to the park, and they're seeing trees. They're seeing life in the park," said Tim Phelps with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry.
The park reopened completely on Friday after closing several trails and entrances trails due to ongoing wildfires.
Information officers with the Division of Forestry spoke with 3,500 park visitors since it reopened, many of whom expected to find trees burned to rubble, which is largely untrue.
Despite burn scars in the soil, most of the trees in the direct line of the fire withstood the flames because of the high speed of the firestorm. It can take up to 1,000 hours of burning for thicker fuels like tree stumps to fully succumb to a fire.
Except for Cherokee Orchard Road, all of the national park’s streets are back open to drivers, although some trails are still closed. You can check current road closures here.
Phelps said the resilience of the forest has surprised many of the park visitors officials spoke to this weekend.
"They're surprised to see so many standing trees that look otherwise healthy," he said. "Yes, there's burn scars on them. The ground itself is scarred, but the canopy trees look pretty good."
One factor helping fire crews is the rain. Officials said finding remaining hotspots has gotten harder -- a good sign the rain is helping to knock the fire down.
As visitors trickle back in, fire crews are feeling more confident.
“There will be fire activity here for the next week or two,” said Planning Operations Section Chief Ody Anderson. “It’s going to diminish on a daily basis, as we start closing the gap on this.”
Crews will have to wait until the soil dries before fully assessing just much how the rain has helped.
“The point we want to make to folks outside of the area right now is the Great Smoky Mountains is surviving,” said Phelps. “Mother Nature will rebound and grow again.”
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