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Western North Carolina burn ban ends

The Black Bear Fire has followed I-40 toward Tennessee since it was started by a tractor trailer crash on the road on November 16.
Forest Service Facebook
The Black Bear Fire has followed I-40 toward Tennessee since it was started by a tractor trailer crash on the road on November 16.

Wednesday afternoon November 22:
The N.C. Department of Agriculture has announced that the burn ban for 30 counties in Western North Carolina will end at 5 p.m.

The ban has been lifted in: Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yancey

Wednesday afternoon November 22:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park started reopening campgrounds and roads in the evening on November 21. Elkmont and Cades Cove campgrounds are open. Here’s the full list of open roads.

Park officials warn visitors to be aware of hazards, including wet roads, fog and the potential for snowfall and freezing temperatures at higher elevations. Trail crews will be out today to assess broken branches and more that were caused by the storm.

“Despite rain across the park today, a burn ban is still in effect, which prohibits all campfires and charcoal use until further notice,” a press release reminded visitors.

Eight more counties have extreme drought in their region from last week. That’s a total of 17 counties according to the most recent drought report on November 21.

The Black Bear Fire command has been taken over by the North Carolina National Forests team. An update hasn’t been released yet today.

High gusts of wind are still expected across the region, according to the National Weather Service.

The burn ban by the NC Forest Service for burning greater than 100 feet away from a dwelling was still in place at the start of the day. However local counties have started to drop burn bans within 100 feet of a dwell. Macon County dropped their ban but said, “Residents should still use caution when burning.”

Tuesday morning November 21:
Local officials warn the current rain does not mean that this fire season is over. Jackson County Emergency Management posted a reminder that the burn ban is still in effect.

The Black Bear Fire along I-40 is still listed as 42% contained at 1,888 acres. The Forest Service explained in the morning update that despite winds last night, fire behavior was minimal and containment lines were not tested by the fire. Today rain is expected to continue. While flames may not be visible, fuels will continue to smolder, and smoke will be visible, the Forest Service warns.

Because of the change in weather, the Southern Area Incident Management Team Blue Team is transferring command of the fire to The National Forests in North Carolina on Wednesday, November 22.

The National Park Service will issue an update this afternoon update on the status of the below campgrounds and roads in the park that were closed yesterday.

Monday afternoon November 20:

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will close Elkmont and Cades Cove campgrounds and most park roads to protect visitors, employees and park resources due to forecasted severe weather, dangerously high winds, and a red flag warning.

“Employee and visitor safety is our only priority,” Superintendent Cassius Cash said in a press release. “We understand these closures are an inconvenience, but we are trying to eliminate as much risk as possible during this dangerous weather event.”

The campground closures go into effect immediately. Campers already in the campgrounds will be notified of the closures.

Park rangers will also start closing roads by early afternoon and encouraging visitors to leave as soon as possible. Newfound Gap (Highway 441 from Sugarlands Visitor Center to Smokemont Campground) will close around 1 p.m. today.

The following roads are already closed or will close later this afternoon:

  • Clingmans Dome Road. 
  • Cherokee Orchard Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  
  • Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley. 
  • Little River Road between the Townsend Wye to Sugarlands Visitor Center.  
  • Laurel Creek Road and Cades Cove Loop Road. 
  • Cataloochee Road.  
  • Lakeview Drive. 

Gatlinburg Bypass, Foothills Parkway West (from Look Rock to Highway 129), and other park roads will remain open as long as safely possible. The Spur will remain open as long as safe vehicle passage exists.
Park officials advised that winds will grow stronger this afternoon and overnight with sustained winds at 40 mph and hurricane-force gusts.

A red flag warning is in effect for the Smokies, which means very low humidity and stronger winds are expected to combine to produce an increased risk of fire danger. 

Visitors are recommended to exercise extreme caution and check the park website for alerts. Hikers should avoid hiking during the high wind warning.

Campgrounds, facilities and roads will remain closed until the high wind and red flag warnings have expired and park rangers can assess roads and facilities. The National Park Service will issue an afternoon update on Tuesday, November 21 on the status of campgrounds and roads in the park.

On Monday morning, the Black Bear fire in Haywood County spread to 1,740 acres toward the Tennessee state line along I-40 corridor. The fire is 42% contained.

Smoke may settle along the Pigeon River overnight – expect low visibility when driving along I-40.

For public and firefighter safety, a closure order is in effect over the fire area. This includes Cold Springs, Harmon Den Mountain, Groundhog, Hickory Ridge and Skiffely Creek, Chestnut, Carmicheal, and Snowbird Roads. The Appalachian Trail is closed from I-40 to Brown Gap. Gind more information at linktr.ee/blackbearfire.

Road closures are in effect for Cold Springs Road and Brown Gap Road. Impacts to travel along Interstate 40 are expected. Check current road conditions at drivenc.gov.

Nine counties in Western North Carolina continue to experience extreme drought. Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Graham, Henderson, Macon, Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania counties are all included in the list from the state’s Drought Management Advisory Council.

NC DEQ Division of Water Resources maintains a dashboard showing conservation status of public and large private water systems here: DWR :: Water Use Data Collection (ncwater.org).

Each local government and large community water system is required by law to report water conservation measures within 72 hours of implementation. You can also find local Water Shortage Response Plans: DWR :: Local Water Supply Planning (ncwater.org).

Despite the drought, the Black Bear Fire and the Collett Ridge Fires are the only active fires in the region, according to NC Forest Service.

A burn ban is currently in place in the Great Smokies National Park, which prohibits all campfires and charcoal use until further notice. A burn ban is also in effect for community members across the region indefinitely.