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Arson investigations follow some wildfires

Arson investigations follow some wildfires File photo

Arsonists were responsible for some of the wildfires first responders have battled over the past month, with one arrest made and multiple investigations ongoing. 

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has put out a call for information that could help identify those responsible for the arson believed to be the cause of the Rich Mountain Fire, which was reported around 2:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20, near Cades Cove. Thanks to firefighters working through the night and rain finally falling Nov. 21, the fire was 100% contained at 6 acres within two days of starting.

“Intentionally setting fires in the park, except in designated rings or picnic areas, is always illegal and is extremely dangerous, especially under the extreme weather conditions we saw this week,” Boone Vandzura, Chief Ranger of Resource and Visitor Protection, said in a press release issued at the time.

The National Park Service is asking anyone with information that could help identify those responsible for the arson to submit a tip. Tips can be submitted anonymously, and a financial reward is available for validated tips. A white truck seen at the Rich Mountain Trailhead around 10 a.m. Nov. 20 could have been involved, or its occupants may have seen something that could assist with the investigation. To submit a tip, call or text, 888.653.0009, visit  or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The origin of the Rich Mountain Fire is not the only instance of alleged arson the park saw Nov. 20. At 11 a.m. that day, a construction crew working on Lakeview Drive near Bryson City said they witnessed a woman set two fires to grass and brush on the road shoulder.

The fires were both quickly extinguished before they could grow. National Park Service rangers arrested the woman, and charges are being filed in the U.S. District Court of Western North Carolina. She received two Central Violations Bureau citations, one for Creating a Hazardous Condition and another for Lighting a Fire in an Undesignated Area, which will require a court appearance, said a Department of Justice spokesperson. The park has not released the woman’s name, which is also not yet available on public court documents..  

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According to the Cherokee National Forest, the 103-acre Bullet Fire in Monroe County, Tennessee, and the 573-acre Buck Bald Fire in Polk County, Tennessee, are also being investigated as arson.

The region’s largest wildfire, the Collett Ridge Fire in Cherokee County, started following a lightning strike, while the Black Bear Fire in Haywood County was sparked by a tractor-trailer accident on Interstate 40. The 434-acre Poplar Drive Fire in Henderson County was determined to be caused by a debris fire that got out of hand.

— Holly Kays, Outdoors Editor

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