Smokies place ban on backcountry fires

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GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced a temporary ban Thursday on backcountry campfires effective immediately.

“The park is experiencing abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions throughout the park,” GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash said. “With little rain and hot, dry conditions predicted over the next week, it is imperative that we reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires.”

The fire restriction will be in effect until further notice.

The ban comes on the heels of the Tennessee Division of Forestry’s announcement that they will launch the burn permit system a few weeks early.

Less than a week ago Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area placed a burn ban on its backcountry visitors.

Sevier County municipalities Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg were the first locally to issue a burn ban on Sept. 17.

Maryville and New Market have also issued burn bans.

The fire restriction in the Smokies only applies to campers using the park’s 100 backcountry sites and shelters. Backpacking stoves that use gas canisters are still permitted at backcountry campsites.  

Campers at the park’s nine frontcountry campgrounds using designated fire rings or picnickers using fire grills at picnic areas are still able to have fires.

Visitors are asked to take precautions to help reduce the risk of wildfires by extinguishing frontcountry fires by mixing water with embers in fire rings and grills.

The park said backcountry hikers and campers should also be aware of the availability of water throughout the park.

At some locations where there is a running spring, it can take more than five minutes to fill a quart-sized bottle. Many of the springs in the higher elevations are running significantly slower than normal at this time.

Known backcountry campsites without water include: Campsites 5, 16, 26, and Mollies Ridge Shelter.

This list is expected to grow as the drought conditions continue. Backpackers are encouraged to carefully consider their itinerary and carry extra water for those sites that are not located along major water sources.

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