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Fire on the mountain

As spring approaches, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park will be “painting with fire” in the Dark Ridge area, between County Highway 988 (Sugar Run Road) and the park boundary.The burn unit is adjacent to the East End area of Middlesboro, on the Kentucky side of the park. This planned ignition is part of the park’s overall Fire Management Strategy. Prescribed fire has been a tool used by the park for over a decade now, and the Dark Ridge unit is an example of how managed fire actually benefits the park resources and neighbors.

“The 163-acre ‘Dark Ridge A/B’ prescribed fire will actually be the third time that a low intensity fire has been used in this area. It will help reduce the amount of beetle-killed pines and other dead trees that have fallen and could become fuel for a much larger fire,” said Shane Sturgill, operations specialist for the Mississippi River Zone. “By burning under carefully controlled conditions, the park actually reduces the risk of a large wildfire that could cross the park boundary and threaten neighboring landowners and communities.”

The park is waiting for the right weather conditions to light the fire, as certain parameters are required to account for the size of the fire. Those parameters include the intensity it will burn, the impacts associated with the smoke, the impacts to endangered species and the effect on the experience of park visitors. The planned ignition will take place sometime over the next several months, depending on weather conditions.

“We also want to make certain that folks in Middlesboro aren’t alarmed when they see the smoke rising from the ridge in the park,” said Sturgill.

The park anticipates that during the burn, there may be minor delays for traffic travelling on Hwy 988 through the park. Signs will be posted along roadsides to alert travelers to the prescribed burn and associated smoke. Posts will also be made to the park’s Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CumberlandGapNHP/ and website at https://www.nps.gov/cuga. Visitors may also call the park at 606-248-2817 for more information.