Last year was a major drought here. I could smell forest fires from my home through the summer in all directions. This drought led to tragic fires in the park last November spreading into Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. They were one of the greatest natural disasters ever in Tennessee, killing 14 people and damaging or completely burning over 2000 buildings. When I first got back to the park this spring, I was stunned by the damage.
It appears that two teens started the fire, though charges against them have been dropped. This made me think of the current fire raging in the Pacific Northwest in the Columbia River Gorge, also started by teens. This fire started with filming of firecrackers exploding in a forest, possibly to post on social media. I appreciate how Instagram and other outlets encourage people to get out and explore wilderness. But perhaps we need tougher laws and enforcement to avoid these visits turning tragic. Social media can encourage renewed appreciation for nature, we just need to work together to be sure beautiful places are not loved to death, but instead loved back to life.