Brian presents a full update on the Rough Ridge Fire started by a lightning strike.
Jennifer Hinckley, Planning Section Chief with the Southern Area Gold Incident Management Team and US Forestry Service’s Forest Prescribed Fire Specialist on the Tahoe National Forest in California, walks you through the details of the Rough Ridge Fire, it’s cause, and details on the fight against it.
A 14-mile section of U.S. 74/N.C. 19 in Swain County has been closed due to debris from nearby wildfires.
The stretch of road, which goes through the Nantahala Gorge, will be closed to all traffic until officials deem the area safe for residents and visitors.
Crews from the Department of Transportation have established a 30-mile detour around the closure, which will add longer travel time for motorists driving in Western North Carolina.
Southbound traffic is being detoured on the following route: North on N.C. 28 to Stecoah, south on N.C. 143 in Robbinsville, then south on U.S. 129 to Topton. Northbound traffic will follow that route in reverse.
Fires in the area have resulted in loose debris and rocks tumbling to the U.S. 74/N.C. 19 creating dangerous situations.
Transportation officials remind motorists that wildfires create smoke that can quickly reduce visibility. Motorists are advised to slow down, obey all posted signs and add extra time into upcoming plans.
Visit the Traveler Services Section of NCDOT.gov for real-time traffic information at follow NCDOT on Twitter.
On Wednesday morning, Nov. 2nd, Jeff Gardner, USFS District Ranger for Conasauga District provided FetchYourNews with the following information about the Rough Ridge wildfire in the Cohutta Wilderness Area. Story begins below map.
As of Tuesday evening, the Rough Ridge wildfire was at 2,771 acres. The main part of the fire is on the east side of Rough Ridge trail and is moving on a north, north-east track following the ridge line. The northern extent of the fire is near Crooked Dogwood Gap. Fire has backed down to the Jacks River all the way to Sugar Cove Branch.
Estimates from last week was that it would be about 3,000 acres in size. Gardner now says that the fire will exceed 3,000 acres but did not provide information on how large the fire could become.
The wildfire jumped two control lines early this week. On the west side, the fire crossed Rough Ridge trail and is now established on the western side of the mountain near Ash Hopper Branch, burning in a south to north direction. Fire crews plan to stop the western side of the fire at Rough Creek.
On the east side, embers from the fire crossed Conasauga Creek and ignited roughly 40 acres. Two other spots crossed the control line west of Jones Settlement and were contained at 2 and 15 acres. USFS used bulldozers to make a clean fire line around these areas. Crew members camped at the control lines east of Consauga Creek so they could walk the fire lines day and night. Fannin County EMA sent trucks to the area yesterday in case the spread outside into Jones Settlement. USFS is also conducting water drops on the western edge of Jones Settlement.
Jones Settlement contains about 25 cabins. According to Gardner, it is the only piece of property in Fannin County that backs up to the Cohuttas. The rest of the wilderness is surrounded by National Forest.
USFS is now conducting water drops on the fire to keep its heat down. USFS is using two helicopters to make the drops. One has a 150 gallon capacity and draws its water from a bucket filled at Lake Ocoee. The other has a 2,880 gallon capacity and uses a snorkel which sucks water up from the lake. Both helicopters are using Lake Ocoee as it is five minutes by air from the fire area. Lake Blue Ridge is much further.
Within a Wilderness Area, fire crews must use fire control methods that have minimal impact. USFS’ overall plan is to control the fire with natural barriers like Jack’s River, Conasauga Creek and Rough Creek and man-made fire breaks such as Rough Ridge and East Cowpen trails. In total, USFS has established 15 miles of control lines, which included natural and man-made fire breaks. Fire crews daily hike the natural and man-made fire breaks to clean the breaks of leaves or dead fall which fire could use to travel over the breaks. Crews are also igniting back fires from the fire breaks with the idea that the back fires will burn up all the fuel between it and the main fire, leaving the main fire with nothing to fuel it. USFS is also conducting a daily fly-over of the fire. The site of the fire is an extremely remote, rugged area with limited access. Crews must hike in all their firefighting equipment like shovels and saws.
A lightning strike ignited Rough Ridge fire in mid-October. Gardner said that lightning strikes only start 3% of the fires in the Cohutta Wilderness Area. The other 97% of fires are human-caused. In fact, Conasauga District rangers are now dealing with fires in the western part of their district and have brought in a fire management crew to oversee the Rough Ridge fire in the Cohuttas.
Gardner says that Fannin County can expect Rough Ridge fire to burn for a while. The next predicted rain is in the middle of November. Other weather services say that north Georgia’s drought could last through winter.
The fire burns more slowly in the morning hours due to higher humidity and lower temperatures. In the afternoon, low humidity and higher temperatures cause the fire to pick up again. Wind directions change day to day, so different communities may experience smoke impacts on different days.
A burn ban for Fannin County started on Oct.22nd. There should be no outdoor burning of any type including fire pits, campfires and burn barrels. On Oct. 23rd a smoldering fire pit on an outdoor deck in Gwinnett County started a fire which engulf the house, killing all five people in the house. Fannin County EMA and Fire Department remind residents one floating ember can start a fire.
Current closures associated with the Rough Ridge wildfire include:
- Forest Service Road 64 from Betty Gap trailhead to Three Forks trailhead
- Three Forks trailhead parking lot
- East Cowpen trail from Three Forks parking lot to the junction with Panther Creek trail, and
- Entire length of Rough Ridge trail from the junction with East Cowpen trail to Jacks River trail.
A small wildfire discovered in the Cohutta Wilderness on October 16 has grown to 10 acres and is highly visible across Fannin, Gilmer and surrounding counties. The fire is not threatening any private lands or structures.
The Rough Ridge wildfire is located approximately 1.5 miles north of Three Forks trailhead on the east side of the Rough Ridge trail, and is at 3500 feet elevation on extremely steep slopes. The nearest private land is located 1.5 miles to the northeast. This wildfire is most active on the northwestern and southern flanks. Flame lengths are less than one foot and the rate of spread has been slow. Lightning is believed to have started the fire.
Because this wildfire is located within a congressionally designated Wilderness Area, it is managed differently than some other wildfires. Actions are limited to those that safely and effectively suppress the fire when needed to protect life and property and to meet other objectives.
“Natural processes, such as lightning caused fires, have helped shape the forest type you see today in the Cohutta Wilderness,” says Conasauga District Ranger Jeff Gardner.
Fire personnel are currently monitoring the Rough Ridge wildfire and using Minimum Impact Suppression Tactics to allow ecological and biological processes to progress naturally while reducing the long-term effects of the suppression actions. Fire management strategies are based on many factors, including risks to public and firefighter safety; condition of fuels; predicted weather; values to protect; and available firefighting assets. These strategies may change as conditions change.
This week, firefighters have suppressed five other small fires on the Conasauga Ranger District, all located outside Wilderness Areas. As warm, dry weather persists, fire danger remains High for this area. High winds today and tomorrow are contributing to the fire danger.
Current closures associated with the Rough Ridge wildfire include the entire length of Rough Ridge trail from East Cowpen trail to the Jacks River trail.
A campfire restriction issued on October 12, 2016, includes all of the Chattahoochee National Forest, including the Cohutta Wilderness. The restriction prohibits building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire outside of developed recreation areas. That means that only campfires built within metal fire rings in developed campsites are allowed. There are no developed campsites within Cohutta Wilderness.
To learn more about Georgia’s national forests, download the official free mobile app for your smartphone or tablet, or visit us on the web at www.fs.usda.gov/conf. You can also get the latest forest news by liking us on Facebook and following us on twitter @ChattOconeeNF.
The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests provide the finest outdoor recreation opportunities and natural resources in Georgia. Featuring nearly 867,000 acres across 26 counties, thousands of miles of clear-running streams and rivers, approximately 850 miles of recreation trails, and dozens of campgrounds, picnic areas, and other recreation activity opportunities, these lands are rich in natural scenery, history and culture. The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.