Dangerously high winds and low humidity in recent days have increased wildfire risk at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, causing officials to close some campgrounds and roads, but the most recent blaze can't be blamed on Mother Nature.
The Rich Mountain Fire, which was reported on November 20 around 2:30 p.m. near the intersection of Old Cades Cove Road and Rich Mountain Road, prompted an early-morning voluntary evacuation of homes near the park boundary. Now the National Park Service is requesting the public’s help in identifying those responsible.
The fire is one of several recent blazes in and around the park and burned to about six acres in steep, rugged terrain before firefighters were able to contain in. The initial investigation indicates that it was caused by two fires deliberately started by an unknown arsonist, despite the fact fire bans and red flag warnings have been in place in the park.
“Intentionally setting fires in the park, except in designated rings or picnic areas, is always illegal and is extremely dangerous, especially under the extreme weather conditions we saw this week,” says Boone Vandzura, Chief Ranger of Resource and Visitor Protection. Starting a fire in a National Park is no small matter – in 2018, a man was sentenced to five years in prison for setting a fire that nearly 10,000 square feet of historic vegetation in Joshua Tree National Park.
“We are asking visitors and neighbors for help as we work to identify those responsible for this suspected arson," adds Vandzura.
A white truck was reportedly spotted at the Rich Mountain trailhead on November 20 at around 10 a.m. Though this vehicle may not be involved, officials advise that the occupants may have seen something that could assist the investigation.
If you were in the area on Monday and saw anything that may be helpful to investigators, you can call or text the NPS-wide Tip Line 888-653-0009
or fill out an online form: go.nps.gov/SubmitATip. A financial award is available for validated tips.
If you ever see an unattended campfire, or a fire that seems to be burning out of control, call the fire service straight away.
Open fires are common causes of wildfires, with trash burning the culprit more often than not. If you’re a camper, you’ve probably made your fair share of open campfires. However, it is crucial to put your fire out properly once you are finished with it.
You should have a bucket of water with you for any campfire session. Pour the water over the flames, stir the fire area with a shovel to soak the remaining embers and pour water on it once again. Finally, feel the campfire area with the back of your hand to ensure nothing is still smouldering. Learn more in our article on wildfire safety.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.