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Kudzu takes over burn scars 2 years after Sevier County wildfires

The invasive plant species is very difficult to kill and can grow more than a foot a day.

SEVIER COUNTY — An invasive plant is taking over parts of Gatlinburg two years after the Sevier County wildfires killed native species on the mountainside.

People in East Tennessee have said kudzu is growing uncontrollably through neighborhoods affected by the fires.

"It just took over, took over everything and wiped everything else out," said Scott Young pointing to a field of trees now covered with kudzu. "When the fire came in, it burned up all the natural vegetation and then that spring the kudzu came back full force."

Young moved to Gatlinburg just two days before the 2016 wildfires and has seen the kudzu take over his neighborhood. He was forced to spray his backyard with a powerful herbicide to kill the invasive plant.

"This used to be all mountain laurel and natural vegetation and then after the fire nothing came back but the kudzu," said Young. "We used to have some animals here which seemed to have disappeared since the kudzu took over."

Young and a group of neighbors spoke at a Gatlinburg City Commission meeting last week, asking the government for any help they can provide.

The City of Gatlinburg said it is aware and concerned about the spread of kudzu on private property. The city said it aggressively pursues kudzu eradication in all city landscaped areas including city parks.

Two years after the wildfires, the burn scars are nearly gone, replaced in some neighborhoods by the plant that grows, and grows, and grows.

"Kudzu requires a lot of persistence in order to eradicate," said Kristine Johnson, the Supervising Forester at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "The roots of a 50-year-old Kudzu plant are as big as us."

The park does not have a kudzu problem, but Johnson said the fires could be to blame for its resurgence in the city.

"Kudzu, like any other plant, takes advantage of the absence of competition," Johnson said. "The fire, in many cases, removed a lot of plants that may compete with it."

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