Drought and wildfires plague a region typically known for its ‘rainforest-like’ climate

The Southeast is not a region that we tend to associate with wildfires. It’s humid, it’s wet, and twice this year deadly floods ravaged vast areas of two states — Louisiana and North Carolina. Yet here we are, talking about tinderbox conditions propelled by a historic drought and record-breaking heat.

With little to no rain in the immediate forecast, fire restrictions have been put in place in the national forests, including Cherokee in Tennessee; Nantahala and Pisgah in North Carolina; Chattahoochee and Oconee in Georgia; and Bankhead and Conecuh in Alabama.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, banned back-country fires — very unusual because much of the park, climate-wise, is considered a “temperate rain forest.” The last time the park instituted fire restrictions was in 2007.

As of November 2, 2016, there were 11 active, large fires burning across the region. There are at least 10 large fires burning in six states, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Dozens of smaller fires are smoldering across the Southeast, filling populated valleys with a hazy, brown smoke.

On October 31, a gas pipeline exploded in Alabama, setting off three new wildfires in the region.

In fact, so many fires are raging in the mountains of far-western North Carolina that the Forest Service called in reinforcements from California, New Mexico, Michigan, Minnesota, Florida and Oregon. The fires have burned at least 800 acres since Oct. 23.

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