Aerial view of the Rough Ridge Trail fire on Oct. 25th. Photo courtesy of United States Forest Service
Ten days after starting, the Cohutta wildfire now encompasses 85 acres. The fire is located in a remote section of the Cohutta wilderness approximately 1.5 miles north of Three Forks trailhead on the east side of Rough Ridge Trail between Rough Ridge Trail and Cowpen Trail in Fannin County. Rough Ridge Trail is currently closed east of Cowpen Trail. There are no known structures in the area and the United States Forest Service (USFS) currently states that no homes or structures close to the fire area are in danger. Smoke from the fire is visible in McCaysville and along the 515 corridor.
USFS believes a lightening strike started the fire on Oct. 16th. Temperature and humidity have kept the growth of the fire at a low-rate. USFS spokesperson Michael Orr describes the fire as a “creeping” fire, meaning that the fire consumes underbrush and is not leaping from tree to tree through the tree canopy. The sharp topography of the area is also keeping the fire in check. Orr said that it is not like wildfires in the west where the fire can grow 1,000 acres in a day.
Actually, this fire is a huge benefit for the Cohuttas said Orr. There hasn’t been a fire in this area for over 30 years and the underbrush has become really thick. This fire will clear out vegetation and promote new plant growth. For the next few years after the fire, it will be a great area for small animals. Orr said USFS’ goal now is “let the fire do its job”. He can’t predict when the fire will burn itself out or lose momentum because of weather variables. The area needs several days straight of off-and-on rain for the rain to put out the fire.
Since the wildfire in an inaccessible area of the Cohuttas, a National Wilderness Area, and is not threatening homes, USFS is using minimum fire suppression tactics. USFS is not moving in any heavy equipment, using chainsaws, or building wide fire breaks. USFS is not spraying fire-retardant by air or on ground. There is the six-person Buffalo River Crew from the Arkansas National Park Service office which is on the ground during the day to monitor the fire. USFS also makes daily fly-overs to get a perspective of the fire’s activity.
USFS asks people to stay away from the area until the Rough Ridge Trail Fire Closure is lifted. USFS also reminds wilderness visitors that there is currently a campfire ban in National Forest areas in north Georgia due to the extended drought. Visitors can have campfires in fee-pay areas where there are campfire rings. Residents can keep track of the status of fire closures on the US Forest Service Chattahoochee-Oconee Forest Facebook page.
Fannin County EMA and Fire Department also warn Fannin residents that currently Fannin County is in high fire danger. Residents should not burn trash in burn barrels or in the open until the drought is over. One floating ember can start a fire.