The morning of Sunday, April 28th began as most Sundays do. Two Wild South trail crews gathered in the early morning hours to tackle a full day of work in the Linville Gorge. The weather was perfect and spring was in the air. Volunteers spent the day removing fallen trees, repairing trailbed, and removing graffiti in the sunshine.
Things took a turn by early evening, when one of the crews received word of a smoke report as they exited the trail. The local volunteer fire department and the US Forest Service were on their way to investigate – the exact location of the smoke was still largely unknown.
Moving Into Action
Kevin Massey, Wild South Executive Director, quickly responded by leading a small team to the top of the mountain. At the summit they could get a better view of the area, as well as good cell and radio reception. The immediate priorities were to notify the second crew to exit the area, and locate the origin of the smoke.
The Wild South team placed smoke spotter volunteers along the ridge, communicating with them via radio. USFS personnel en route to the fire overheard these communications, and from then on, maintained close coordination with our team.
At about the same time, first responders discovered the fire across the river from where it was initially reported. This meant the second Wild South crew was safe, and the team could now focus on supporting the USFS fire crew.
Providing Support on the Ground
Wild South’s goal when assisting with wildfires is to free up highly-trained fire personnel by playing a supporting role to their efforts. In this situation, we were able to relay reports from witnesses to personnel, monitor trailheads to notify visitors of trail closures, and coordinate with area residents to set up emergency vehicle parking.
Once firefighting efforts were underway, we provided real-time, customized maps to planners and other field personnel, and advised them on safe access routes. Several Wild South volunteers with emergency response training stayed until well after dark to ensure all USFS personnel emerged safely.
During and after the wildfire, Wild South assisted the USFS in sharing important updates with members of the community. Once the fire was completely extinguished, we returned to the site of the fire’s origin to safely remove fire hazards and rebuild the fire ring.
The Power of Community
We’d like to thank the USFS Grandfather Ranger District, USFS Asheville Interagency Hotshots, and the Jonas Ridge Fire Department for their outstanding response. This wildfire could have been significantly larger and more costly, but thanks to their efforts, it was contained incredibly quickly with minimal impact.
At Wild South, we believe the key to conserving public lands is strong relationships between communities, agencies, individuals, and the land itself. The efficient and effective response to the wildfire on April 28th demonstrates this idea. Through the ongoing dedication of public lands communities, we can protect the wild places we love for generations to come!