Fire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In November 2016 fire ravaged the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding communities. The catastrophic blazes were the result of an unfortunate perfect storm of unusual factors, suspected arson and atypical meteorological conditions.
Although the Great Smoky Mountains National Park receive an average of 200 inches of annual rainfall, 2016 proved to be an exception with extreme drought and high temperatures persisting throughout the Summer and Fall. The drought was so extreme that the National Park Service banned open fires within the park boundaries. With little relief in sight the potential for serious wildfires grew with each passing day.
What makes this disaster especially disheartening is that arson appears to be cause of the original fire that ignited along the Chimney Tops Trail. One has to wonder what would possess an individual to deliberately destroy one of nature’s most majestic creations. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been a model for conservation, a sanctuary for wildlife, and a refuge for humanity since its inception in the early twentieth century.
As firefighters fought to control the ensuing wildfire, the unthinkable happened. A storm front moved in with horizontal winds that reached 80 MPH. This had the doubly disastrous effect of both intensifying and rapidly spreading the fire first across the mountains and then everything else in its path. A tidal wave of flame and heat moved faster than any possible escape evacuation.
Finally the rains came and slowed the progress of the conflagration. But not before the tragic loss of over a dozen lives and thousands of homes and businesses burned to the ground. The scope of the tragedy is nearly incomprehensible.
Homes can be rebuilt. Businesses can construct anew. But lives cannot be replaced. And the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will recover, but it will never be the same as erosion will take a toll until new vegetation takes root and restores soil integrity.
Our Parks belong to all of us. It is up to us to take action to preserve and defend them. The challenges are many but resources are scant. Its time to step up and tell the decision makers that our National Parks are a priority and MUST be protected for future generations.
The time for action is NOW!