Fire grows to 135 acres in Cherokee National Forest
Firefighters have been working 16 hour days attempting to contain the fire.
Crews from as far away as Idaho continue to fight the fire at the Cherokee National Forest in Polk County. One hundred thirty five acres have burned since Sunday. U.S. Forest Service officials said it all started because of an unattended campfire. The fire is located in the Rock Creek Gorge on the Southeast side of Chilhowie Mountain. The fire is under control and not spreading, but firefighters remain on scene.
The U.S. Forest Service put up signs warning people of the heavy smoke and thick fog impacting the area. Drivers pull over to watch smoke rise from the Cherokee National Forest, as a helicopter continues to dump hundreds of gallons of water on the flames. “It cools the fire off so we can go in, not directly on the flames but on the perimeter and control the fire and be in better position for our tactical operations,” said Safety Officer Jack Muncy.
Firefighters have been working 16 hour days attempting to contain the fire. “Trying to put a box around the fire and burn out along the fire line to reduce the fuel so we are in control of the fire versus the fire in control of us.”
But due to the steep rocky terrain, this is a difficult battle. Eighty crew members from across the country are coming in to help. “We can't use the typical drive an engine up, run a hose to lay on it, or just hike a crew in. It is just not safe. Too many obstacles to fight the fire aggressively,” said Zone Fire Management Officer Paul Varnedoe.
Each year, firefighters at the national forest respond to dozens of fires, but nothing quite as serious as this one. Thankfully, it isn’t a threat to area residents or their property. “This one is not that large. It had the potential to get really large really fast and then start threatening homes and businesses.”
Smoke will be visible for days as firefighters continue burning vegetation along the lines. They burn more acres to allow the fire to burn but not spread any further. “We all use that tactic, it is a great tool. It allows us to fight the fire on our terms, provides us more opportunity for a successful containment.”
The campgrounds at Cherokee National Forest are still open to the public; some hiking trails are closed until The U.S. Forest Service feels it is safe for people.