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GSMNP reopens roads, trails, backcountry campsites on North Carolina side; wildfire 80% contained

The Thomas Divide Complex Fire is comprised of two wildfires. Officials confirm both fires were caused by down power lines due to high winds and fallen trees.

Great Smoky Mountains Natl. Park — UPDATE (4/1/22)

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park said all roads, trails, and backcountry campsites have reopened after closures due to the Thomas Divide Fire Complex on the North Carolina side.

On Friday, the GSMNP said 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. 

Around 20 firefighters are still on-site to continue monitoring the area and to make any needed site repairs from fire suppression activity.

The park also said electrical power to Elkmont, Metcalf, Cataloochee, and Smokemont areas has been restored after being shut off on Wednesday, March 30 to reduce fire risk across the park. Park rangers responded to one powerline start on Thursday, March 31, from the line servicing the Look Rock telecommunications tower. An engine quickly responded from Blount County and was able to put the fire out before it spread.    

Backcountry campsites 46, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, and 60 are reopened as well as all park roads that are seasonally open this time of year. 

Reopened trails:

  • Deep Creek and Thomas Divide trails from Deep Creek to Newfound Gap Road
  • Pole Road Creek
  • Indian Creek
  • Stone Pile Gap
  • Deep Creek Horse Bypass
  • Juney Whank Falls
  • Deeplow
  • Fork Ridge
  • Sunkota Ridge
  • Martins Gap
  • Indian Creek Motor Nature
  • Mingus Creek
  • Newton Bald
  • Kanati Fork
  • Loop trails

ORIGINAL STORY

The Thomas Divide Complex Fire is comprised of two wildfires. Officials confirm both fires were caused by down power lines due to high winds and fallen trees.

They said most of the fire activity was between Deep Creek and Newfound Gap Road. As of Thusday night, the Complex Fire remained 80% contained and at roughly 940 acres.

Firefighters from multiple agencies continued to mop up along the fires' perimeters and maintain structure protection around the fireline. The GSMNP said mopping up means the fireline has cooled enough that it cannot re-ignite even during high wind events, saying little fire activity has been observed over the last few days.

Despite the high winds overnight Thursday, the park said the fire stayed in the containment lines due to the "excellent work by firefighters from multiple agencies."

The Southern Area Gold Incident Management Team responded to provide leadership in fire suppression efforts on the Thomas Divide Complex Fire, according to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

The Incident Management Team sent approximately 30 personnel to assist the GSMNP on the Tennessee side for any incidents that might occur due to high winds. 20 of those 30 people were diverted to respond to another wildfire in Wears Valley, Tennessee that began Wednesday, according to the GSMNP.

On Thursday, the park said firefighters plan to complete line construction on Indian Motor Trail while others continue to mop up and patrol private property lines and infrastructure within the Cooper Creek Drainage.

Approximately 121 people are helping contain the fire in the Smokies, including ground crews, engine crews, and air operations. Control lines have been "well established" around the Stone Pile section of the fire, and crews are monitoring it to address any remaining burning fuels in that area over the next few days. 

The larger Cooper Creek Fire section has control lines established around the southern border, and the park said crews worked Wednesday to strengthen the northern control lines and to put out hot spots in the perimeter.

The park said dry conditions have created an enhanced risk for wildfires. It is asking people to use extreme caution in the park due to high winds expected across the area over the next two days. The park said campfires should be fully extinguished and cigarettes need to be properly disposed of to prevent the accidental spread of wildfires.

A small, half-acre human-caused fire was detected Tuesday around 1:30 p.m. on Newfound Gap Road south of the Deep Creek Trailhead parking area. Crews said the fire was unrelated to the Complex Fire and they were able to quickly extinguish it with the help of the National Park Service, Cherokee Fire Department and nearby air support.

No permanent structures have been lost yet, the park said.

On Monday, crews continued fighting the fire on the ground and in the air, saying wind speeds had decreased enough to allow air support efforts to resume.

"On the other side of the tree line, they will the helicopter will be flying in. They dip the bucket and then they'll fly out," said Rhonda Wise, acting public information officer for the Great Smoky Mountains National park.

Firefighters will continue similar suppression efforts on Tuesday, so long as winds cooperate. Additional resources arrived to assist firefighters. 

3/28/22 Thomas Divide Complex Fire Update: Crews made great progress today! The fire complex, consisting of the Stone...

Posted by Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Monday, March 28, 2022

According to a release from officials, the two fires were active inside of the park on Saturday. A list of trails and campsites that were closed because of the fires is below.

  • Backcountry campsites 46, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, and 60
  • Deep Creek and Thomas Divide trails, from Deep Creek to Newfound Gap Road
  • Pole Road Creek trail
  • Indian Creek trail 
  • Stone Pile Gap trail 
  • Deep Creek Horse Bypass trail
  • Juney Whank Falls trail 
  • Deeplow trail
  • Fork Ridge trail
  • Sunkota Ridge trail
  • Martins Gap trail
  • Indian Creek Motor Nature trail
  • Mingus Creek trail
  • Newton Bald trail
  • Kanati Fork trail
  • Loop trails

Officials said Toms Branch Road near Deep Creek was also closed.

The Deep Creek Campground and Picnic Area were not scheduled to open for the season until April 15.

Officials said they were notified about a fire south of the park near Cooper Creek at around 1 p.m. on Saturday. While responding to that fire, they also learned about another near Stone Pile Gap, near the Thomas Divide area.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is leading efforts to contain and extinguish the Cooper Creek fire. The Bryson City Fire Department is leading efforts for the Thomas Divide fire.

National Park Service as well as crews from Tennessee and nearby counties are also responding to the fires. A command post has been established at the Swain County East Elementary School.

The National Park Service continues to coordinate suppression efforts with 70 personnel from different agencies. Plans are underway to transfer oversight to the Southern Area Type II Incident Management Team in the upcoming days.

GSMNP said crews will remain in place overnight to provide structure protection. 

It's not the only wildfire park rangers have seen this year.

"We've had several small fires this year, including one near park headquarters last Thursday and this is much larger than that," Wise said.

Many counties in East Tennessee have issued burn bans or stopped giving burn permits.

"We do still have very low humidity and higher winds than normal so just use common sense if you're going to be burning on your property," Wise said

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