Prescribed burns underway in Cades Cove

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CADES COVE, Tenn. (WATE) — Crews with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park started a control burn operation at Cades Cove Monday morning.

Nearly 690 acres in Cades Cove will be burned off over the next three weeks — weather permitting — under a plan by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the Appalachian-Piedmont-Coastal Zone fire management staff.

On Monday, crews first started working on a 58-acre field near the Methodist Church.

Ken Voorhis, a park ranger with resource education, said the prescribed burns are useful for many reasons, such as to reduce fuels for wildfires and restore meadow habitats.

“It helps bring in more natives. This was a lot of fescues in these (Cades Cove) fields, and so grass would just grow up. Now we have a mix of Goldenrod, blackberries and all sorts of native grasses that are really great habitat for wildlife,” Voorhis said.

He said another goal of the controlled burns is to fuels for wildfires, such as brush and dead trees.

“If we can reduce the underlying vegetation, that kind of thing, we can help assure that if there is a natural fire out here into the forest, that it’s not as, that it doesn’t get out of control,” Voorhis said.

One of the main goals of having a prescribed burn in Cades Cove specifically is to also keep the fields open and ‘maintain the historic views,’ according to Voorhis.

A controlled burn in the GSMNP is serious business, because it is a forest so a lot can catch fire.

Chad Dunehew, Fire Boss Trainee of the Cades Cove burn, said they plan extensively for their burns.

“When’s the best time to burn, the resources we have to have on site in order to burn and contingency resources as well, in case things get a little bit out of hand and we need extra help,” Dunehew said.

However nature is nature, so a few contingency plans might have to be put in play to stay safe and keep the burns controlled.

For example, the open fields next to the Methodist Church were scheduled to be on fire by the afternoon, but crews had to change tactics because of mother nature.

“It’s going slower because we have to move slower. We have to put fire on the ground a lot slower and a lot more diligently, because the fuels are receptive more. So it takes a lot less fuel to ignite quicker,” Dunehew said.

Dunehew said if the fires jumped out of the prescribed area, they do have contingency plans to deal with them.

For example, crews did have to work a little spot fire that jumped out of the prescribed area Monday afternoon.

Dunehew said a team member quickly saw and and immediately asked for more resources to take care of the spot fire, so it didn’t turn into a larger wildfire.

Voorhis said the operations are so controlled, that they allow visitors along the the loop road and in historic structures.

“Hyatt Lane, it will be open (Tuesday) when we’re burning the fields on each side. And it’s okay to be driving through there because the flames are in the field, (crews are) directing which way that fire is going, so it’s a controlled situation,” Voorhis said.

Voorhis said there could be brief delays or temporary closures in case the fire got a little too close to the roads.

Fire managers ask that drivers entering the burn zone slow down, roll up windows and turn on headlights for safety.

There are several signs leading up to the controlled burn area to warn visitors, but they are always welcome to ask rangers what’s going on.

“The woman I talked to this morning was concerned, ‘do you guys have this under control?’ And I’m like yes. This is a planned activity. It’s not, we’re not fighting a fire. We’re setting a fire on purpose,” Voorhis said.

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