Fire managers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park plan to conduct a series of prescribed burns of fields in Cades Cove on Tuesday through Friday, November 1st through 4th if weather conditions permit. Park managers plan to burn several tracts totaling about 550 acres.
The selected fields are being burned as part of a cost-effective strategy to prevent the open fields from being reclaimed by forest. The Park contracts to mow about 950 acres of fields that are clearly visible from the Cades Cove Loop Road twice a year. Other fields that are less visible from the Loop Road, totaling around 1,500 acres, are kept open by burning or mowing on a three year rotation.
Without being either mowed or burned, the open meadows of the Cove would very quickly revert to pine and hardwood forest. That process would both alter the historically open landscape which characterized the Cove during its period of settlement, and deprive Park visitors of the excellent wildlife viewing opportunities that the Cove affords.
The burn will be conducted by the members of the Great Smoky Wildland Fire Module and the Cumberland Gap Wildland Fire Module, with additional resources from Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The Fire Modules are National Park Service teams which travel throughout the Southeast to conduct prescribed burns on National Park Service units as well as other federal lands. Firefighters and a Park engine will be assigned each day to ignite the grass lands and to make sure the fire stays within its prescribed boundaries. Strips of grass surrounding each field slated for burning have been mowed short to provide containment lines.
"At this point we do not expect to have to close the Cades Cove Loop Road, but will monitor the situation for smoke or other safety hazards," said Great Smoky Wildland Fire Module Supervisor, Shane Paxton. "The public, of course, will notice smoke in the valley but it will dissipate quickly and not unduly impact their visit," he said.