Updated 12/7/2016 4:23pm – On Monday evening, November 28, 2016 the city of Gatlinburg TN and portions of Pigeon Forge TN literally burst into flames. More than 14,000 people were evacuated. Police and fire officials converged on the city in and effort to get control and save lives. Due to high winds at the time, and extremely dry conditions, the fires spread incredibly fast. Many people barely made it out with their lives, and unfortunately some didn’t make it out at all.
As of today, more than 700 homes were damaged or destroyed by the fire, and 7 people have lost their lives. With only 35% of the areas being visually inspected at this point, while we pray the numbers don’t grow, they may.
The city of Gatlinburg has a special place in the hearts of millions of people worldwide. Some live there, some visit, and almost all have fond memories of time spent there, and in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For many, including us, it was like watching our own homes burn. Our hearts ached as we watched the news updates. The scene literally look liked hell on Earth.
We’ve personally met and worked along side many of the people in Sevier county TN. We have no doubts that this city and people will come back, and that Gatlinburg will rebuild, and be better and stronger than before.
This write-up will not only provide ongoing updates, but address common questions about how the fires started, and also share critical information on how you can help the city of Gatlinburg and it’s people.
- How the Gatlinburg Fire Started – The Perfect Storm
- How can you help?
- Donations and Charitable Organizations
We will continue to provide ongoing updates, they are accurate and verified against multiple sources. Many of our update items will come straight for Gatlinburg officials.
- Two juveniles have been arrested for their role in starting the Chimney Tops 2 Fire, which spread into Gatlinburg on 11/23, resulting in the Gatlinburg fires.
- Charges are currently Aggravated Arson, but additional charges are being considered, and they are considering treating them as adults.
- They are not from Sevier county, but are from Tennessee.
- Due to their ages and the fact the investigation is still active, no further details are being released at this time.
- The Chimney Tops 2 fire is at 17,006 acres and is 64% contained.
- The Cobbly Nob Fire is at 819 acres, and is 67% contained.
- Highway 441 continues to be closed from the Gatlinburg Entrance to the Park to Smokemont.
- Fatality count remains at 14
- On Wednesday, property and home owners will be allowed to return to their homes full-time beginning at 7am.
- The Gatlinburg curfew will change to 10pm – 6am
- Gatlinburg will reopen to the public at 7am on Friday (12/10) morning.
- Total number destroyed or damaged properties has risen to 1,753
- The Chimney Tops 2 Fire is now at 42% containment. Overall acreage is the same, as the fire has not grown.
- The Cobbly Nob Fire is estimated to be 53% contained.
- 12 of the 14 fire victims of the fire have been identified:
- Elaine Brown, 81
- Alice Hagler, 70
- Constance Reed, 34
- Lily Reed, 9
- Chloe Reed, 12
- Jon Summers, 61
- Janet Summers, 61
- Reverand Ed Taylor, 85
- John Tegler, 71
- Marilyn Tegler, 70
- May Vance, 75
- Bradley Phillips, 59
Our most sincere thoughts and prayers are with all of these families. We are so very sorry for your loss.
- Fatality count increased by 1, bring the total to 14
- A newly identified victim is: Elaine Brown, age 81, who sustained a medical event causing a multi-motor vehicle accident on Wears Valley Road while fleeing the fire.
- 134 total injuries from the fire
- Count of total structures damaged is now up to 1,684 structures
- Property owners are allowed into Gatlinburg daily, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
- Curfew remains in effect, and is from 6pm – 6am daily
- Wiley Oakley Drive and Greystone Heights Road remain inaccessible due to critical utility work. Emergency crews are working to open it as soon as possible.
- The Water Boil Advisory is still in effect for Gatlinburg, with the exception of the areas east of City Hall.
- Chimney Tops 2 Fire: Start Date: Nov 23 Size: 17,006 acres Containment: 38%
- The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed from the Gatlinburg Entrance to Smokemont near Oconaluftee (US 441, Newfound Gap) and Little River Road from Sugarlands Visitor Center to Townsend
- Fatalities remain at 13
- Another body has been identified: Alice Hagler – 6 Total have been indentified.
- Beach branch, Walker trail, and Wiley Oakly drive will be open tomorrow at noon – All areas will be open to property owners tomorrow at noon.
- Gatlinburg Mayor – Gatlinburg will rise up, and recovery for two main reasons 1) Mountain Tough 2) Our belief in Jesus Christ.
- Water boil advisory still in effect
- Gatlinburg curfew remains in effect 6pm – 6am
- Origin of fire continues to be investigated in partnership with the ATF. Officials are asking that if you hiked or visited Chimney Tops on Wed 11/23, call the tip line 888-653-0009.
- 13 Fatalities – 12 directly due to fire, 1 due to heart attack while fleeing
- Released names of the deceased: John and Janet Tegler from Canada, Jon and Janet Summers from Memphis, May Vance – heart attack
- Actively searching for missing people – this is a priority
- 1,000 structure effects by the fire: destroyed or severely damaged
- Targeting to have Downtown Gatlinburg open on Wednesday
- You can Volunteer to help with the recovery – https://www.volunteeretn.org
- Governor of TN in Gatlinburg, and attended the press conference
- 60% of damaged property is on the interactive website, will be adding more all weekend. If you don’t see yours, be patient and keep checking. The interactive site will be posted here as soon as it is made available by officials.
- Concerns raised by the press about mobile device notification – Notification went out at 9:04pm on Monday, and sent to mobile devices. It went to any mobile device connected in the city. A number of issues caused people to not get the notifications (power and and failing mobile service were two big ones). Police were out on the streets earlier going door to door.
A very aggressive un-named and non-local reporter asked questions about why the evacuation wasn’t done sooner. Superintendent Cash explained a number of reasons why they didn’t think the fire was a threat, and measures done to control the fire prior to the winds arriving. Due to her aggressive nature, Mayor Larry Waters shut her down and said they will look at things like this later, and that there will be no Monday Morning Quarterbacking right now.
- Fatality count increased from 7 to 10 – Not yet releasing names
- Total of 80 people treated at LeConte Hospital as a result of fire injuries
- A number of missing people found due to TBI following up on leads. They hope the trend continues.
- All roads in county will be open to homeowners, business owners, and lease holders from 10am to 5pm, tomorrow – Tuesday. Three Exceptions are: Beech Branch Rd, Walker Trail Rd and Wiley Oakley. By allowing access, the city and county is not saying it is safe and remaining structures are not safe. Still very dangerous use extreme caution!
- Public access to Downtown, River Road, Parkway, and Airport Rd pushed out to Wednesday
- Gatlinburg High School closed tomorrow, but may open Monday
- Pi Beta Phi is still a work in progress
- Searches should be complete by nighttime today
- ATF is assisting in determining origin and cause of fire. They are creating a timeline and leads and put all the information together.
- All fires in the city and county extinguished at this time, but they are still watching for hot spots.
- The city manager said that this will be very difficult for people. The devastation is incredible. Physical surroundings are just gone in many places.
- Many properties have smoke damage, if not fire damage.
This was a very emotional news conference all around. You could hear the frustration from reporters due to the lack of some information, in particular around missing persons. Government officials are visibly exhausted, and emotionally frustrated not being able to provide the information wanted by the public. They are being very diligent in providing accurate information, and that includes providing the public with accurate information. One of the officials broke down in tears responding to a difficult question about missing people. You can visible see and hear how hard this has been on everyone, and the community.
- The ATF has joined the investigation. Called in overnight. Unclear on exactly why.
- Fatality count remains at 7
- Individuals treated at LeConte Medical Center due to fire injuries – up from 53 to 74 treated. Many released, some still hospitalized
- Officials asking people to hold donations of food, water and clothing for now – Overwhelmed due to incoming donations across the nation. There should be a central drop-off/ship location established this afternoon that will be better equipped to handle the significantly large amounts of donations coming in.
- Future donation information phone numbers: 1-866-586-4483 or 1-865-430-7384
- Links to a GIS Map on the Chimney Tops 2 Facebook page will be posted later today. This will allow property owners to see if their properties are damaged or not. This will be ongoing effort, and data will be added as it is known for the county and cities.
- Next week, property owners will be allowed to access their properties.
- Eastern part of town is open to public Post Office to Eastern city limits
- Open up Parkway and River roads to the public on Monday
- Most of county areas open by this weekend, but still have lots of work to do to meet that goal
- 3 areas will have no access until later next week – Wiley Oakly, North Chalet, Westgate, Beach Branch/Walker Trail
- Pets/Animals – Working together to put system in place where animal control will be able to check on provided addresses. If you have animals, post your concerns to the Sevier county animal control website, and post very specific information with addresses.
- Setting up a place where all citizens can apply for unemployment insurance, insurance reps from major insurance companies here too: Boyd’s Bear – Upper end of Pigeon Forge – Teams are there now.
- Dolly and Dollywood – “My People” will provide $1000/month for 6-months to each person who has lost their homes – dollyfoundation.org for donations. Details will be available tomorrow on that website.
- TBI agents assisting with 70 missing person leads currently. Asking that if you have found a loved one, to let them know.
- No positive IDs on victims – They are being very thorough to make sure they properly identify people before any announcements are made.
- TBI has no updates on Micheal Reed’s families or Jon and Janet Summers.
- Still risk of fire due to dry conditions, even with rain.
- 17,108 acres damaged by fire – Inside and outside the park
This part is tough, but the fire chief stated that many homes are literally burned the ground, with nothing left but foundation. In these situations, it is unlikely a bodies will be found, and that forensic investigation may be required, which will take longer.
Sadly, this means they will be looking for bones instead of full bodies, but they remain hopeful even though a significant amount of time has now passed.
- Successfully recued 3 people that were trapped – All adults – 1 was from an elevator in WestGate, another from Ski Mountain where they were trapped in their home.
- 7 bodies now recovered – 1 has been identified as missing person Alice Hagler. 3 new fatalities, all adults – 3 bodies where recovered from Chalet Village North
- Sevier county schools will be open tomorrow, Pi Beta Phi Elementary and Gatlinburg high will be closed tomorrow and Friday. Buses will be running, but only where they feel safe.
- Pi Beta Phi Elementary in Gatlinburg did not burn down, some damage, mainly smoke.
- More than 700 structures damaged by fires (300+ in city of Gatlinburg)
- LeConte shelter has been closed
- Hold onto “in kind” donations for now, where to bring them will be announced later. Receiving centers are overwhelmed and full.
- 15,736 acre fire is active in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Named the Chimney Tops 2 Fire
- Curfew for Gatlinburg tonight, 6pm – 6am
- Water boil advisor in effect for Western side of the city (Eastern side – post office to 321 not in effect any longer)
- Tomorrow will have a specific date when people can return will be announced an 11am press conference tomorrow
- 1 active fire remains on Ski Mountain Road.
How the Gatlinburg Fire Started – The Perfect Storm
The Sevier County Mayor, Larry Waters, called the situation “The Perfect Storm”, and indeed he was correct.
Due to extreme drought conditions, some of the worst in recorded history, North Caroline, Tennessee and many other areas of the Blue Ridge were extremely dry. This was made worse by the fact that many leaves had recently fallen to the ground during the Fall season. The leaves were literally fuel waiting to catch.
A relatively small fire was burning in the Great Smoky Mountains National park, at a popular destination and trail called Chimney Tops. This was the second fire in that location for the year, both caused by people.
Monday afternoon, 11/28, a storm was approaching the area. Everyone was praying and hoping it would bring much needed rain to soak the ground, and help extinguish a number of wildfires in TN and NC, but also the fire at Chimney Tops.
Unfortunately, the storm was bringing high winds as well. The winds arrived before the rain. The fire at Chimney Tops began to spread, and even crossed Highway 441 through the National Park. Park Officials were concerned.
Gatlinburg officials were watching various models to determine possible danger to the city, none of these models indicated the fire would reach he city of Gatlinburg
Around 6:30pm on Monday evening, winds increased, and 80 mile per hour gusts began occurring. Wind directions changed unexpectedly, and blow smoke, ash, and hot cinders directly into areas around Gatlinburg. These cinders ignited multiple fires both in and around Gatlinburg.
One of the main areas to go up quickly was “the spur”, which is the road between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. I heard some say it literally went up like a dry Christmas tree.
Cinders from this fire blew to other areas of Gatlinburg and started more fires. Burning trees fell onto power lines, causing more fire and spread. Winds caused other trees to also fall onto power lines, causing additional fires. Fire was everywhere.
Areas on the mountains around the main city were devastated, and entire neighborhoods suddenly went up into flames. Residents were scrambling to get out, and all the while fire and burning trees were block escape routes.
Fire fighters and police converged on the city to help, but there just wasn’t enough to be everywhere all at once. But many heroic and miraculous rescues and escapes occurred, many caught on video and in photos.
How can you help?
Thousands of people have lost not only their homes, but their belongings. Many fled with nothing but the shirts on their backs, and lost everything in the fires. With many businesses burning to the ground or being heavily damaged, many Gatlinburg residents are without work as well.
Gatlinburg needs our help.
- Monetary donations are needed more than good donations at the present time. In fact, organizations have asked that things like food, water, clothing, supplies, etc be paused for now, until existing supplies have diminished. Support has been so large, that organizations don’t have anywhere to store the supplies for now.
- Stay out of Gatlinburg for now, the city is closed.
- Many Pigeon Forge and Knoxville hotels are housing victims of the fires – Before visiting, please call ahead to verify their availability before visiting. Pigeon Forge is open, and they need to business right now.
Donations and Charitable Organizations
We are endorsing the “My People Fund” by Dolly Parton and Dollywood. 100% of your donation will go directly to families impacted by the fires. You can find more information on their website.
WBIR in Knoxville is maintaining on ongoing list of Organizations helping victims of the fires, and for fighter fighters, medics, and police in the area.
If you would like to volunteer to help out with the clean-up of Gatlinburg, or donation centers, visit Volunteer East Tennessee.