‘Everything was catching on fire’: Looking back at the Gatlinburg wildfires

Regional

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – Today, Sunday, Nov. 28, marks five years since the deadly Gatlinburg wildfires. Wildfires had already been burning in the region for several days, but a “perfect storm” of dry conditions and strong, sustained wind allowed for fire to spread rapidly during the night ahead of a storm coming into the region.

Video captured embers being blown by the wind, and to make matters worse, first responders also documented numerous sparking power lines.

“Everything was catching on fire,” said former Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller the next morning.

Evacuations were ordered for Gatlinburg and parts of Pigeon Forge. More than 14,000 people evacuated Gatlinburg alone, but not everyone was able to get out. Fourteen people died, more than 2,400 buildings were destroyed, and more than 17,000 acres burned. Downtown Gatlinburg was spared.

Firefighters from Murfreesboro to Johnson City continued to battle fires on Nov. 29, 2016, but by that point, the worst was already over.

Miller said the lack of notice from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a “critical failure.”

However, an extensive after-action review completed by the Interior Department found that, while no wrongdoing was found by Great Smoky Mountains National Park crews, there were “weaknesses in the park’s response.”

Meanwhile, a lawsuit over the National Park Service’s handling of the 2016 wildfires is still on hold 5 years later. Attorneys representing the federal government have asked to have the case dismissed.

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