Forest Fires in Western NC November 2016

Updated December 8, 2016 – More than  59,000 acres in Western NC have now been charred by over 20 wildfires in Western NC.   There are currently 18 active fires in North Carolina alone; however, the fires at this point are mostly contained.  Many are smoldering with only small amounts of active burn activity.  

For information, updates,and photos on the Gatlinburg Fire, please go here.

While not in North Carolina, the recent Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Gatlinburg, TN fires have been the worst.  The Gatlinburg fires, which broke out Tuesday evening, as a result of cinders blowing into Gatlinburg from the Chimney Tops fire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have devastated the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Areas.

Sevier County, where both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge reside has over 250 structures damaged or burned to the ground.  Three fatalities have been reported so far as a result of the fires.   More than have of Gatlinburg has been damaged by fire.

Much needed rain has moved into the area, and has helped, however high winds have made for dangerous conditions, even with the rain.   You can see a more detailed report on the Gatlinburg fires below.  We also recommend joining our Blue Ridge Mountain Life Facebook group, where lots of information and photos are being shared on the fires and how you can help.

Thousands of  firefighters are currently fighting to contain the Forest Fires in Western NC and get the fires under control.   These are a combination of both local firefighters, and firefighters that have travelled in from all over the country to assist.

Westen NC Fires by Mark Houser
Photo by Houser Photography

Table of contents:

Forest Fires in Western NC November 2016

Six North Carolina counties have had evacuations due to fires already and in particular the Lake Lure area due to dangerous conditions as a result of fire.  Residents are being evacuated due to approaching flames, and risk of structural fire.

In other areas of Western NC, smoke is a huge problem, especially those that need to be outside or have medical conditions such as Asthma.  Surrounding states are seeing smoke from the fires, and reports of smoke are coming from as far away as Atlanta and Eastern NC.  Even Charlotte, more than 2 hours away went under a code orange air quality for the past few days.  The majority of Western North Carolina is under a Code Red air quality warning and has been for the past two weeks.

In Macon County, whose county seat is Franklin, NC special N95-rated masks health masks were being made available Saturday, as standard surgical masks do not provide enough protection against smoke particles.

Many of the more than 20 active wildfires in North Carolina are being investigated as suspected arson.   A couple of arrests have already been made in TN and the people charged with arson as a result of setting fires.  North Carolina has a $10,000 reward for anyone that can provide information leading to the arrest of anyone connected with starting any of the NC fires.

Governor Pat McCrory requested federal funding to assist with fighting the fires.  Funding was approved and a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75% of the emergency protective measures taken while fighting the fires.

Video of the Lake Lure Fire, by Cathy Anderson Photography:

Cause of NC Fires

A number of fires are being investigated as arson.   Wildfires often start due to environmental causes, especially under dry conditions, like Western North Carolina is experiencing now.   North Carolina and other surrounding states are experiencing some of the driest conditions in history this Fall.

The majority of the current NC Wildfires are the result of humans.  Things like sparks from machinery, unattended campfires, leaf burning, and cigarettes.  In fact, we recently heard a verified report that a driver threw a cigarette out of their car on I-40, and it immediately started a blaze that quickly travelled up the hillside.  Fortunately, local fire fighters were able to extinguish the blaze before it got out of control.

As a result, 25 counties in North Carolina are under a “burn ban” which prohibits all open burning.  Additionally, all existing burning permits have been canceled.  The burn ban took effect on Monday 11/7 at 5pm and is in effect until further notice.

From the National Forest Service, here are a some facts about the burn ban:

  • The burn ban does not apply to cooking fires such as grills or outdoor cookers. 
  • The ban does not apply to a fire within 100 feet of an occupied dwelling. County fire marshals have jurisdiction over open burning within 100 feet of an occupied dwelling. The N.C. Forest Service has advised county fire marshals of the burning ban and asked for their consideration of also implementing a burning ban. In addition, other local ordinances and air quality regulations may also impact open burning. 
  • If a fire within that 100-foot area escapes containment, a North Carolina forest ranger may take reasonable steps to extinguish or control it. The person responsible for setting the fire may be responsible for reimbursing the N.C. Forest Service for any expenses related to extinguishing it.
  • Open burning includes burning leaves, branches and other plant material. In all cases, it is illegal to burn trash, lumber, tires, newspapers, plastics or other non-vegetative materials.
  • Outdoor burning is also prohibited in areas covered by Code Orange or Code Red air quality forecasts.

Active Western North Carolina Wildfires

There are currently more than 20 wildfires burning in Western NC, and the counts vary day to day as existing fires spread.  The following sections provide updates on the largest fires:

Active NC Fire Map

Map courtesy of InciWeb.
Fire Map courtesy of InciWeb.

Boteler Fire, Clay County

 Status: Active – Smoldering

Location: In the Shooting Creek community, 6 miles east of Hayesville, NC

Started: 10/25/2016

Acres: 9,036

Contained: 100%

Cause: Unknown

Fire is smoldering, and no growth is expected.

Boteler Fire Brad Perkins
Boteler Fire By Brad Perkins Photography

Camp Branch

Status: Active

Location: 7 miles west of Franklin, North Carolina

Started: 11/23/2016

Acres: 3,422 Acres

Contained: 85%

Cause: Unknown

Smoldering, no expected growth.

Cathey Gap

Status: Active – No heat detected within the perimeter

Location: Three Miles Northeast of Wolf Creek Lake

Started: 11/17/2016

Acres: 123 Acres

Contained: 100%

Cause: Unknown

No detected heat, and fully contained.  

Cherokee, NC

Status: Active – Patrol and monitor status

Location: 10 mile radius of Cherokee, NC

Started: 10/25/2016

Acres: 756

Contained: 95%

Cause: Under Investigation

The fire continues to smoke smoke and smolder.


Cherokee NC Fire
Photo by The Wandering Viewfinder

Chestnut Knob (South Mountain State Park)

Status: Active – Monitor and Patrol Status

Location: South Mountain State Park, about 10 miles south of Morganton, NC

Started: 10/25/2016

Acres: 6,435

Contained: 95%

Cause: Under Investigation

Minimal fire behavior with creeping and smoldering

South Mountain State Park Fire
South Mountain State Park Fire – Photo by Mark Houser – Houser Photography

Clear Creek

Status: Active

Location: Marion, NC

Started: 11/20/2016

Acres: 3,163

Contained: 100% 

Cause: Human

Minimal creeping and smoldering.


Status: Monitor and Patrol

Location: 3 miles Northwest of Highlands, NC

Started: 11/2/2016

Acres: 110

Contained: 100% 

Cause: Human

No additional spread is expected.  No heat is currently detected by Infrared Aircraft.

Dick’s Creek

Status: Active – Smoldering

Location: Two miles Northwest of Sylva, NC

Started: 10/23/2016

Acres: 729

Contained: 100%

Cause: Human

No additional spread is expected.  Little to no heat has been detected in the past few days.  Plan is to patrol and monitor the fire with available resources.

Horton Fire

Status: No longer Active

Location: South of Boone, NC

Started: 11/21/2016

Acres: 1,450

Contained: 100%

Cause: Human

This fire is out.

Horton Fire, NC
Horton Fire, by Matt Watson

Knob Fire

Status: Active – Smoldering

Location: Eight miles west of Franklin, NC, on Rocky Knob

Started: 11/2/2016

Acres: 1,130

Contained: 100% 

Cause: Human

Minimal activity.  Little to no heat has been detected in the last several days 

Lake Lure and Chimney Rock State Park – Party Rock Fire

Status: No Longer Active

Location: Chimney Rock State Park (which is closed)

Started: 11/5/2016

Acres: 7,142

Contained: 100%

Cause: Under investigation

This fire is out.

Announcement: Chimney Rock Village Reopened to the public on 11/20..  

Lake Lure Forest Fire
Lake Lure Forest Fire – By Michele Schwartz
party rock fire
Party Rock (Lake Lure) Fire by Michele Schwartz

Maple Springs

Status: Active – Minimal activity, smoldering

Location: North of Santeetlah Lake, NC which is north west of Robbinsville, NC. 

Started: 11/4/2016

Acres: 7,788

Contained: 100%

Cause: Human

Minimal activity and smoldering.  No growth expected.

Tellico Fires

Status: Active – mainly smoldering at this point

Location: 3 miles south of Almond, NC

Started: 11/3/2016

Acres: 13,874

Contained: 100%

Cause: Human

Moderate Activity.  Smoldering.

Tellico Fire
Tellico Fire by Timeless Moments Imaging

Other fires of note:

Pinnacle Mountain/Table Rock State Park, South Carolina

Status: Active – Smoldering

Location: Table Rock State Park- 10.5 miles north of Pickens, SC

Started: 11/9/2016

Acres: 10,623

Contained: 100%

Cause: Human

Minimal activity with smoldering

Pinnacle Mountain Fire
Photo by Michele Schwartz

Chimney Tops, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Status: Active

Location: Chimney Tops area, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Started: 11/9/2016

Acres: 17,006

Contained: 82%

Cause: Human – Two Arrests were made on 12/7

Closures: Highway 441 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed from the Gatlinburg entrance to Smokemont.

Minimal spread is expected.  Smoke and smoldering will continue.


Chimney Tops Fire
Chimney Tops Fire by Plaasabilities

Gatlinburg Fire and Pigeon Forge Fire


We now have a dedicated page for the Gatlinburg Fires with photos, updates, and detailed information on how the fires started.

Additional Information

Additional Fire updates and details can be found on InciWeb.

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