The Chimney Tops 2 Fire was reported in Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, TN at approximately 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 23, 2016. The wildfire began burning in a remote location of the park (Chimney Tops) in steep terrain with vertical cliffs and narrow rocky ridges, making access to the wildfire area difficult for firefighting efforts. Between Thursday and Saturday (November 24-26), crews identified and worked to establish a containment area lower down on the mountain where there was a higher chance of success to stop the fire. Sunday, November 27 the relative humidity dropped and a weather inversion lifted, which increased fire activity. Three helicopters were used to make bucket drops to slow the spread of the fire. Overnight, strong winds moved into the area. On Monday, November 28th, the exceptional drought conditions and extreme winds caused the wildfire to grow rapidly. Helicopters could not fly due to high winds and poor visibility. The National Park Service was in communication with the Gatlinburg Fire Department and the Tennessee Division of Forestry throughout the day. Winds further increased throughout the day to a sustained 40-50 mph in the evening with gusts up to 87 mph, causing numerous new wildfire starts from embers carried far in front of the main fire, as well as downed powerlines within the Gatlinburg community. The wildfire was determined to be human-caused and under the investigation of the National Park Service, ATF, and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Two juveniles have been arrested for Aggravated Arson in connection with the fire.
Fire Damage in the Park
•The wildfire did not cause significant damage to any buildings (including historic buildings!) in the park. There was only wind damage.
Wildlife Impacts•Plants and Animals have adapted to survive fires over the years. Many animals use their senses to run, fly, burrow underground, or find refuge in unburned areas.
•There has been one bear fatality reported due to the wildfire. All other radio-collared bears in the region are fine, according to the park’s wildlife biologists.
•Although some individuals may not have survived the swift-moving fire, the population as a whole will be able to repopulate the area.
•Turkeys, bears, and other wildlife have already been observed in burned areas of the park.
Fire Ecology•Fire does not burn uniformly across the landscape. Some areas burned intensely while others remained unburned.
•In burned areas, plants and animals that prefer open areas and edge environments will thrive. Ecological succession will heal these burned areas over time.
•Fire is a natural part of some park ecosystems. Fire is beneficial to some areas of the park. For example, table mountain pine trees need fire to open their serotinous cones and drop seeds.
•Fire is also important for cavity nesting birds and Indiana bat roosts.
•There are ecosystems that are NOT conducive to fire (fire does not typically travel far in these areas. For example, north facing slopes, cove hardwood forests, beech/birch/poplar (among others) may have mild impacts to the forest canopy, but most of the forest structure is still in place.
•It will take time for scientific research to determine many effects of the wildfire.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Were any structures in the park destroyed by the fire?
A: No. All park structures, including those in the areas of Headquarters, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, and Mount Le Conte were undamaged by the fire. Remember, this is only speaking to park structures, not those outside park boundaries.
Q: Did a prescribed burn start the fire?
A: No. There were no prescribed burns in the area this year. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported that two juveniles have been arrested for Aggravated Arson in connection with the Chimney Tops 2 Fire and Sevier County Fire. It is still under investigation.
Q: Why is it called the Chimneys Tops 2 Fire?
A: It was the second fire in the Chimney Tops area. The first occurred November 13-16, 2016. It was fully suppressed by fire crews and totaled 1/4 of an acre. The two Chimney Tops fires are not connected.
Q: How much of the park was burned?
A: Approximately 11,000 acres burned within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is about 2.1% of the total land of the park. Approximately 6,000 acres outside the park within Sevier County burned as well. There is a mosaic of burned and unburned landscape within the affected area.
Q: How close did the fire get to the Sugarlands Visitor Center?
A: It got within 2000 feet east of the visitor center
Q: How close did the fire get to Le Conte Lodge?
A: It got 1.5 miles downslope from the lodge
Q: When was the last major wildfire to burn in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
A: The last large wildfire within the park occurred in 2001. It was called the Sparks wildfire and it was an approximately 7,000 acre wildfire near Bryson City, NC.
Last updated: March 16, 2021