A wildfire spotted Monday near Rich Mountain Road had reportedly spread to 5-7 acres as firefighters battled the blaze into Tuesday morning, according to a news release from the National Park Service. Nearby homes had to be evacuated.
While the park itself has not been evacuated, rangers have encouraged visitors to leave for their own safety. Park officials also announced in a Monday news release the closure of most roads leading into the national park, as well as Elkmont and Cades Cove campgrounds.
The decision came before the wildfire ignited in anticipation of the hurricane-force winds forecasted by the National Weather Service to hit Tennessee and raise the threat for fires.
An update on the closures at the national park straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee is expected Tuesday afternoon, park officials said.
“Employee and visitor safety is our only priority,” park Superintendent Cassius Cash said in a statement. “We understand these closures are an inconvenience, but we are trying to eliminate as much risk as possible during this dangerous weather event.”
Walmart shooting in Ohio: 4 injured after Walmart shooting in Beavercreek, Ohio, police say; suspected shooter dead
Wildfires prompt evacuations of nearby homes; no campfires or charcoal in park
Winds were expected to grow stronger overnight into Tuesday, with sustained winds of 40 miles per hour and hurricane-force gusts reaching up to 80 mph, the park service said.
Due to the low humidity and strong winds, a red flag warning indicating the increased threat of wildfires is also in effect for the Smokies. The dry conditions prompted park officials to implement a temporary burn ban Thursday prohibiting campfires and the use of charcoal.
A raging wildfire in east Tennessee forced evacuations early Tuesday morning of homes along Old Cades Cove Road in Townsend, the Townsend Area Volunteer Fire Department announced on Facebook.
Townshend firefighters were among crews with the National Park Service and the Tennessee Department of Forestry that fought to extinguish the blaze. A helicopter dropped water on the fire Monday evening before the high winds grounded it and halted air operations, the parks service said.
While it didn’t pose a threat to any buildings, the wildfire was the largest blaze so far that ignited among the park’s sprawling forests.
On Monday morning, a construction crew working on Lakeview Drive witnessed a woman set two fires to grass and brush on the road shoulder in North Carolina. The fires were quickly extinguished and the woman was arrested.
Firefighters from Blount County in Tennessee also put out a small brush fire Sunday night at Look Rock.
Major roads remain closed in Great Smoky Mountains
Park rangers notified campers Monday of the campgrounds’ closure and began blocking off roads in the afternoon.
Here is a list of roads that remain closed:
- Newfound Gap (Highway 441 from Sugarlands Visitor Center to Smokemont Campground)
- Clingmans Dome Road
- Cherokee Orchard Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
- Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley
- Little River Road between the Townsend Wye to Sugarlands Visitor Center
- Laurel Creek Road and Cades Cove Loop Road
- Cataloochee Road
- Lakeview Drive
Park officials said other roads, including Gatlinburg Bypass, Foothills Parkway West (from Look Rock to Highway 129), will remain open as long as possible.
Those seeking updated road and weather information can call 865-436-1200 or check the park’s website for the latest alerts.
Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at email@example.com