By Rachel Pressley
In August, the U.S. Department of the Interior released a report reviewing decisions made during Tennessee’s deadly Chimney Tops 2 Fire last fall and issuing future recommendations for the National Park Service and interagency fire community.
The Chimney Tops 2 Fire started in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Nov. 23, 2016, and led to an estimated $2 billion in damage. Due to extreme wind and drought conditions, the fire joined with other fires outside of the park in Sevier County and resulted in 134 injuries and 14 lives lost.
The report discusses poor staff availability due to the Thanksgiving holiday and restrictions that hindered radio communications with other agencies.
The report revealed many preparedness and planning weaknesses within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and how climate change has led to a “new normal” of record-breaking drought conditions and increased presence of dry, flammable brush. National Park Service officials also said they did not expect the added danger of hurricane-force winds.
At a press conference, Chief Joe Stutler, a wildfire expert who leads the fire management for the National Park Service, said that there was no way for firefighting crews at the time to predict what the best decision would be, as the park had never seen fire conditions like this before.
The park plans to upgrade the department’s radio system communications and to issue portable radios and personal protective equipment to the seven neighboring fire departments. The report also includes recommendations for park leaders to reconsider fire suppression practices.