The Wildfires of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Gatlinburg
2016 has already been a year for the record books in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. Drought and wildfires in the area have been making national news. Fires have been burning throughout the southeastern United States in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia. Dry conditions and a record drought have caused the fires to be much more widespread and dangerous than any in recent memory. Massive wildfires are uncommon in this part of the country, where plenty of moisture and rain usually keep the environment damp. After all, the Smoky Mountains are named for the low clouds that form from high humidity air that is cooled at the higher altitudes.
On November 23, 2016, a wildfire broke out in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the Chimney Tops area. Initially, the Park Service hoped that natural barriers would keep the fires contained, but the wildfires have spread faster than anyone ever imagined possible. We don’t know exactly what caused the first fire, but the fire spread in a very short amount of time.
In an effort to reduce the spread of the fires, helicopters have been dumping water on the flames. Unfortunately, due to exceptionally low humidity and an ongoing severe drought in the area, the fire continued to spread. Forecasters estimate that the area has received about 20 inches of rain less than it usually receives. In addition to the drought, temperatures are high and above average for the area. It’s truly a horrible situation and very unfortunate that these negative factors have been working together to create conditions that have allowed the fires to grow and spread at exponential rates.
By the evening of November 28th, these wildfires began spreading into the Gatlinburg and Cobbly Nob areas. Winds as high as 87 mph caused numerous trees and power lines to fall, igniting many more fires in the area. The usually pristine and quiet area has been taken over by unforeseen and unimaginable forces of nature. Our beautiful trees and forests and acting like a tinderbox and threatening thousands of homes and properties. It has been unthinkable that Gatlinburg would be affected by wildfires. Usually, high humidity is the area’s focal point as fog gathers on the mountains. However, unusually low humidity has left Gatlinburg exposed.
The worst drought in a decade, coupled with these high winds created a disastrous chain of events that will change many lives in the area forever. While we have been waiting for much needed and forecasted rain, the rain has not started, and we are all just hoping for the best. All of these events have combined to make a very devastating event for this quiet little mountain area.
Previously, it has been unthinkable that a fire like this would spread. Mayor Mike Werner said that this fire was one for the history books. The Mayor’s home is just one of the thousands of homes that are at risk. Concern for property is high, but right now the focus has been on saving lives.
Evacuations and Firefighting Efforts
Due to the speed with which these fires started and the rate at which they spread throughout the area, evacuations have been ordered for Gatlinburg, Cobbly Nob, Pinnacle Vista, and parts of Pigeon Forge. Over 14,000 people have been told to evacuate. These evacuation orders for downtown Gatlinburg are unprecedented. Moreover, the evacuation orders came through in the evening, forcing terrified residents onto packed streets at night. Traffic is terrible as whole neighborhoods and areas try to flee the wildfires. Nearby evacuation centers are being set up to house people while they wait for news.
Firefighters have been brought in from the entire surrounding region to help extinguish the blazes and to help protect properties. Even areas not immediately threatened by the fires are experiencing choking smoke. Traffic is bumper to bumper, and the roads are congested as folks are heading evacuation calls and pulling out of town.
Although most of these fires have now been extinguished or at least brought under control, there are several fires still in progress around the Cobbly Nob area. Earlier today, during the official press conference given by city officials from Gatlinburg and the National Park, it was announced that there were still 14 separate fires burning. Fire crews continue battling to get these final blazes under control and contained.
Assessing the Damage
As soon as it is deemed safe, homeowners will be allowed back into the area to analyze damage. While it has been a rapidly moving and panic causing event, we are hopeful that many homes were spared. Regardless of the outcome of the property damage, we know that our community is strong and we will rebuild as necessary and continue to love and enjoy this special area.
All owners who have cabins with Pioneer Vacation Rentals, please bear with us, and as soon as we can physically see each of the properties, we will be contacting the cabin owners to notify them about the state and overall condition of their cabin. We know that concern is high and we want to begin documenting the state of each property as soon as we can.
If you own a cabin in the Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg or the Cobbly Nob/Pinnacle Vista area and are not on the rental program with Pioneer Vacation Rentals but would like to have someone check your cabin and notify you about its state or condition, please contact Pioneer Vacation Rentals. We will do our best to assist in any way we can as soon as we can. We know that this has been a difficult and incredibly stressful situation and want to alleviate the uncertainty for as many owners as we can, as soon as we can.
Thank you to everyone for your thoughts, prayers, and support. It is greatly appreciated.