GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK - A fire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has grown to approximately 500 acres in size overnight because of strong, 20 mph winds, and has forced the closures of several roads and trails in the park.
The Chimney 2 fire, which has been burning since November 23, is affecting the Chimney Tops and Bullhead Ridge area. Monday morning, park officials have closed Newfound Gap Road, Cherokee Orchard Road, Elkmont Road, and several trails due to the fire.
Heavy smoke from the fire is visible in Gatlinburg and surrounding areas, and there are reports of ash falling from the sky. The smoke is so bad in some areas that Sevier County School officials will move kids from Pi Beta Phi Elementary to the Rocky Top Athletic Facility at 12:30 p.m.
GALLERY: Chimney 2 fire
Fire crews are working to suppress the fire for public safety and to protect park facilities like the Chimneys picnic area.
The fire is currently moving northeast, burning primarily along the ground layer through duff and leaf litter. Gusting winds have caused the fire to spot across the ridges in the Chimney Tops and Bullhead Ridge areas.
On Sunday, three helicopters dropped water on the area to help control the fire in the extremely steep, rough terrain. More ground firefighters have been requested to help out on Monday because of the expected high winds.
It appears that the fire was human caused and is under investigation. If anyone has any information, they are asked to call the park’s Tip Line at 865-436-1580.
Another fire was reported just after 11:30 a.m. Monday just 150 yards behind the Twin Creeks Picnic Pavilion off Cherokee Orchard Road. It's not known yet if this is a separate fire or if it's an offshoot of the Chimney fire. National Park Service firefighters and the Gatlinburg Fire Department have responded to the area, and the Tennessee Division of Forestry is also responding to the area to stage equipment for use as needed.
Backcountry areas are unsafe for travel and the following trails and backcountry campsites are currently closed until further notice: Chimney Tops, Road Prong, Huskey Gap, Sugarland Mountain, Rough Creek, Little River, Cucumber Gap, Jakes Creek, Miry Ridge, Goshen Prong, Old Sugarlands, Bullhead, Rainbow Falls, Alum Cave, Brushy Mountain, Trillium Gap, Baskins Creek, Porters Creek, and Grapeyard Ridge trails.
Closed Backcountry Campsites include 21, 23, 24, 26, 27, 30, 31, 32, Mt. Le Conte shelter, and Mt. Collins shelter.