ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Great Smoky Mountains National Park has closed most park roads as well as its Elkmont and Cades Cove campgrounds after the National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather forecast and flag warning red due to high fire risk caused by high winds and hurricane force. gusts.
Road and campground closures went into effect Monday afternoon, with park rangers notifying campers already in campgrounds and encouraging park visitors to leave as soon as possible.
On Monday evening, a wildfire broke out near Rich Mountain Road on the park’s Tennessee side, according to a new statement from the park. It had reached six acres by Tuesday morning.
“The fire is burning in steep, rugged terrain and is burning primarily at the park boundary at this time,” the news release states.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation and no structures or properties were threatened Monday, although officials said some homes near the park boundary in Blount County, Tenn., had been voluntarily evacuated early Tuesday.
Campgrounds, facilities and roads will remain closed until high wind and red flag warnings expire, allowing park rangers to access roads and facilities, according to the National Park Service.
“The safety of employees and visitors is our only priority,” Superintendent Cassius Cash said in the release. “We understand these closures are an inconvenience, but we are trying to eliminate as much risk as possible during this dangerous weather event.”
A Red Flag Warning is in effect for the Smokies, meaning very low humidity and stronger winds are expected to combine to produce an increased risk of fire danger. The Great Smoky Mountains are already under a burn ban, prohibiting all campfires and the use of charcoal until further notice.
“With recent dry conditions, these winds may cause extreme fire behavior and allow fires to spread rapidly,” the NWS Red Flag states.
The following roads are already closed:
- Newfound Gap (Highway 441, Sugarlands Visitor Center to Smokemont Campground)
- Route du Dôme Clingmans
- Cherokee Orchard Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
- Foothills walk between Walland and Wears Valley
- Little River Road between Townsend Wye and Sugarlands Visitor Center
- Laurel Creek Road and Cades Cove Loop Road
- Cataloochee Road
- Lakeview Drive
The Great Smoky Mountains are the nation’s most visited national park, with 12.9 million visitors in 2022. It covers half a million acres of rugged, densely forested terrain on the western border of North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.
From Acadia to Zion:What Travelers Should Know About America’s National Parks
In November 2016, the Chimney Tops Fire, which started inside the park, was swept by high winds to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where it killed 14 people.
Visitors should use extreme caution, check the park website for alerts, and heed warnings from the National Weather Service and local emergency officials when planning their trip. Hikers should avoid hiking during the high wind warning.
The park is expected to provide an update on conditions and closures Tuesday afternoon.
Ryley Ober is a public safety reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today network. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @ryleyober