Fire On the Mountain
Contact: Dirk Wiley, (606) 248-2817
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Prepares for Spring Prescribed Burns
Spring is here, and so is the fire season at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. The combination of longer days and more sunshine increases the danger of wildfire, but it’s also the season for the park’s managed fire program to “drop the match.”
These “planned ignitions” are part of the park’s overall Fire Management Strategy to reduce the dead and downed timber and protect park resources and park neighbors from unplanned wildfires. They are intended to reduce the amount of fuel so that any wildfire can be more easily controlled, and to help maintain the health of the forest by clearing the understory and encouraging native species that have adapted to small fires at regular intervals. Most of the native species are adapted to this type of burn, but would not survive a catastrophic fire that can occur after years of dead wood collect on the forest floor. As a result, these fires benefit both the park and the park neighbors.
This year, the park plans prescribed fires along Dark Ridge near Vista Venado, above Arthur, Tennessee, and one close to the park boundary near Middlesboro. Park neighbors may be able see the smoke rising above Dark Ridge, or near Hwy 25E by the park boundary, and park staff wants everyone to know that it’s all according to a plan.
“It’s business as usual” said Dirk Wiley, the park’s Chief Ranger. “We’ve identified several areas along the park boundary where a planned burn will help limit the size of any ‘wild’ fires. We account for the wind, the humidity, the slope of the mountain, and the amount and type of stuff that will burn. It’s all part of the ‘prescription’ that is required before we can put fire on the ground.”
“The National Park Service has to account for a lot of details in these burns,” said Wiley. “We don’t just contain the fire; we plan for the size of the fire, direction the smoke will blow, the endangered species (like Indiana Brown bats that might roost in the trees), the effect of the burn on the experience of visitors traveling through the park… We also want to make certain that folks in Middlesboro aren’t alarmed when they see the smoke rising from the ridge.”
The burn will be overseen by a specialized Wildland Fire Module with experience burning throughout the southeast. If weather permits, the burns will begin in the late mornings and continue into the late afternoons until a buffer zone has been created along the park boundary.
To learn more about fire in the national parks, go to fire management link.